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Saturday, Dec 07, 2019

Government huddles to prevent another spike in bad air

While the air quality in the National Capital Region (NCR) improved over the past two days, with pollutants being dispersed by high wind speeds, forecasts show that the pollution could again enter the “severe” zone by Thursday.

india Updated: Nov 19, 2019 05:25 IST
Jayashree Nandi
Jayashree Nandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The Union government said on Monday it will crack down on those violating anti-pollution rules over the next fortnight in an attempt to prevent another severe deterioration in air quality.
The Union government said on Monday it will crack down on those violating anti-pollution rules over the next fortnight in an attempt to prevent another severe deterioration in air quality.(Sushil Kumar/ Hindustan Times)
         

The Union government said on Monday it will crack down on those violating anti-pollution rules over the next fortnight in an attempt to prevent another severe deterioration in air quality in the national capital during the winter season, a remark that followed a high-level meeting with officials from Delhi and neighbouring states.

While the air quality in the National Capital Region (NCR) improved over the past two days, with pollutants being dispersed by high wind speeds, forecasts show that the pollution could again enter the “severe” zone by Thursday.

Union environment secretary CK Mishra said the government will enforce an action plan for the winter that will aim to control pollution even when the meteorological conditions are unfavourable. The action plan will focus on controlling local emissions in Delhi-NCR and penalise officials who fail to take action against polluting sources, he added.

Shortly after the meeting, which was attended by chief secretaries of Delhi, Punjab and Haryana, Mishra said that illegal construction and industrial pollution will be monitored closely in the region till the end of December.

According to the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) 4pm bulletin, the air quality index (AQI) in Delhi on Monday was 214, which falls in the “poor” category. The AQI had touched 494 on November 3, the most hazardous level since 2016. A thick blanket of smog covered Delhi for several days and people complained of breathlessness and burning sensation in their eyes before wind blew away pollutants, showing how the Capital was largely defenceless against unfavourable weather conditions that exacerbate the impact of local sources of pollution and farm fires in Punjab and Haryana.

There was a second spike from November 12 to 14 — when schools had to be shut and people were warned of adverse health impacts associated with exposure to high pollution levels.

The ministry of earth sciences’ air quality monitor, SAFAR, said the relief over Sunday and Monday was likely to be short-lived because of slowing wind speeds. “As per SAFAR-forecast model, winds are going to slow down significantly from tomorrow (Tuesday) and may remain very calm on 20th and 21st November.”

It said the air quality could turn “very poor” by Tuesday and “severe” by Thursday.

Delhi also witnessed a drop in temperature, with experts predicting that the formation of fog could have an adverse effect on air quality by increasing the chances of smog. The minimum temperature on Monday was 15 degrees Celsius, three degrees above the season’s normal. It is expected to drop to 12 degrees Celsius by Wednesday, according to the India Meteorological Department.

“We have found that sources of emissions apart from incursion of emissions from outside are mainly from dust, industries and vehicles. We have identified spots of congestion. Over the next 15 days, we will take over the water sprinkling to keep dust down; there will be a huge crackdown on illegal construction activities and industries. This intensified action will continue throughout December,” the environment secretary said.

“We had a spate of bad meteorology in Delhi but meteorology we will not be able to change. We will continuously bring down pollutants in the air so that even with bad meteorology, we don’t get into a very bad situation. The Supreme Court will hear us on November 25 again, we have a road map by which we will move ahead,” Mishra added.

The Supreme Court recently pulled up the governments of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi to explain why efforts such as a ban on burning crop residue and odd-even vehicle rationing did not help, and ordered scientists to consider installing air purification towers.

The action plan will focus on 13 pollution hot spots in Delhi and seven industrial pollution zones in NCR.

Monday’s meeting was also attended by representatives from the agriculture, petroleum and natural gas, and urban development ministries, district magistrates of Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Gurugram and Noida, CPCB officials and municipal corporations of Delhi, among others.

According to Hiren Jethva, a research scientist with the Universities Space Research Association at Nasa Goddard Space Flight Center, there were more instances of stubble burning this year in Punjab and Haryana than 2018 and 2015.

Mishra said that erring or negligent officials will be penalised. “Deliberate omission or negligence will be punished. The officials and departments have been informed this.”

He said Punjab couldn’t distribute the number of stubble management machines to farmers as decided earlier. “We are trying to analyse the impact of distribution of equipment. Farmers did use equipment,” he said.

The secretary also said that new technologies were being considered to tackle the menace of pollution. “We are looking at new technologies, some were tried last year and some are under finalisation under the Department of Science and Technology which will soon be coming to us. That is a longer term solution,” said Mishra. He said that by August next year, all dusty areas in Delhi-NCR will either be greened or paved.

CPCB chairman SP Parihar said Delhi had recorded a 15% drop in PM 2.5 and PM10 concentration levels between 2016 and 2018 but didn’t give details of exact concentrations. Mishra said the government will look at installing smog towers based on research conducted by IIT Mumbai.

“We have looked at annual averages. They are declining and we have managed to bend the pollution curve. But even after that, we need a reduction of another 65% to meet the safe standard. Going forward, the environment ministry needs to enforce the decisions of CPCB task force and environment pollution control authority with zero tolerance,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment.

The Supreme Court-mandated anti-pollution authority, Epca, on Monday asked Delhi and NCR states to step up surveillance and enforcement to check local sources of pollution and crop burning in view of a predicted dip in air quality in the next two-three days.

Santosh Harish, fellow at Centre for Policy Research, said: “What restricted the intensity of efforts so far though? The biggest spikes every year are quite predictably between late October and mid November. These announcements feel far rather repetitive and knee-jerk.”

(With inputs from agencies)

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