Apex pollution control body does not want repeat of Sri Lanka matches fiasco during ASEAN summit

The ASEAN summit is scheduled to be held between January 19-30 in Delhi, and the heads of state of ten countries are expected to attend. They will also be part of the Republic Day celebration on January 26.

environment Updated: Dec 22, 2017 13:42 IST
ASEAN,CPCB,Narendra Modi
Indian cricket team’s third Test against Sri Lanka at the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium made headlines for the wrong reasons. Delhi’s polluted air forced the visitors to wear masks during the match. (Twitter)

As air quality in the capital breached “severe” levels again, the Central Pollution Control Board’s high-level task force has recommended that severe category measures under the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) be in place till January 2018, when the ASEAN summit and Republic Day celebrations are held in Delhi between January 19 and January 30.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had invited the heads of the 10 ASEAN member states — Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, Laos, Brunei —for the summit as well as the Republic Day parade. All 10 have confirmed.

“We cannot afford to have a repeat of what happened with the Sri Lankan players during the test cricket series,” A Sudhakar, chair of the task force said. “We will be hosting 10 heads of states, we cannot afford it.”

He was referring to recent matches of the India-Sri Lanka series that were marred by incidents of play being suspended as Sri Lankan players struggled to cope with the high levels of pollution.

The GRAP measures included closure of brick kilns, hot mix plants and stone crushers, intensifying public transport services and increased frequency of water sprinkling and mechanised sweeping.

“We are considering implementing severe plus measures given that the air quality is now in the severe plus category. If these conditions persist for 48 hours, these measures will be brought in like construction ban and ban on entry of trucks,” said Sunita Narain, member of the SC-appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority, which formulated the Graded Response Action Plan.

The task force includes scientists, medical experts and members from state pollution control board.

The only measure that has not been implemented yet is the increase in parking fee that is a measure to be taken when air quality is very poor, according to the GRAP. Brick kilns will also be closed till January 31.

The Badarpur thermal power plant has been shut down till mid-March. The task force recommended keeping coal-based industries in Delhi NCR shut between January 15 and January 30. With a ban on furnace oil and petcoke coming into force in Delhi and neighbouring states, some industries shifted to coal, according to Sudhakar.

When orders are issued for closure, the industries and plants do not respond quickly so we wanted to give them early warning, he added.

Ban on operation of diesel generator sets and readiness for implementing odd even scheme for private vehicle barring emergency services were also measures suggested.

The taskforce recommended that measures under the “very poor” air quality be strictly implemented and unauthorised industrial activities not be tolerated.

“Considering that January is the coldest month and considering the IMD forecasts, we felt these measures are necessary,” T K Joshi, a member of the task force, said. “For now the deadline is end of January, but depending on the situation we might recommend extending the restrictions.”

When Belgium’s King Philippe and Queen Mathilde visited Delhi in November, photographs of them inspecting the guard of honour through a curtain of dense smog, generated headlines.

In recent weeks, hosting high-profile international events in the capital has been riled in controversy due to pollution. FIFA under-17 World Cup games were planned outside the capital when Diwali pollution hit.

The incidents and persistent levels of hazardous pollution prompted the National Green Tribunal to term the situation as a “shame for all.”

First Published: Dec 22, 2017 13:42 IST