Inaction on farm fires, slow Grap keep toxic haze hanging

No action has been initiated on the ground so far against farmers openly violating government directives on stubble burning.
Smog and pollution seen near Humayun's Tomb, in New Delhi. ( Arvind Yadav/ Hindustan Times)
Smog and pollution seen near Humayun's Tomb, in New Delhi. ( Arvind Yadav/ Hindustan Times)
Updated on Nov 14, 2021 04:38 AM IST
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By, , Hindustan Times, New Delhi

s the Capital’s residents got no respite from poisonous air on Saturday, the Delhi government announced closure of all schools, colleges, other educational institutions and its offices in desperate measures necessitated by an all-round failure to combat the ecological emergency.

The familiar script of too little, too late played out once again this year as graded response action plan (Grap) measures came into effect on the 10th day of the air quality being severe or in the upper end of the very poor category — the lowest reading over the period was 372 — even as the Punjab and Haryana governments turned a blind eye to the problem of farm stubble burning.

The crisis again laid bare how a reactive approach falls woefully short in addressing Delhi’s bad air problem that requires proactively working on long-term issues such as cropping patterns and desertification, responding quickly with short-term measures when the AQI deteriorates, and collaboration between different states in the region — there has been failure on each aspect.

No action has been initiated on the ground so far against farmers openly violating government directives on stubble burning. On Saturday, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal convened an emergency meeting hours after the Supreme Court suggested that the Centre and the Delhi government consider imposing a lockdown for two days in view of the hazardous pollution levels in the national capital. Kejriwal said there will be no immediate lockdown.

“We are not imposing a lockdown in Delhi now. It is an extreme step, and for pollution such a measure has not been taken in the city so far. We will be preparing a proposal after thorough consultations with all stakeholders... Once ready, we will submit the proposal to the Supreme Court,” Kejriwal told reporters after the meeting.

Senior officials in the Delhi government said the proposal will delve into aspects such as banning all private vehicles and shutting industries, among other things. “Private offices will also be mandated to work from home in that case. But, just as the chief minister said, nothing can be decided without consultations with the L-G and the central government,” one of the officials said on condition of anonymity.

New measures that will kick in from Monday include closure of physical classes in all schools, colleges and educational institutions for a week. All Delhi government offices, agencies and companies will also shift to complete work from home mode for a week starting Monday.

“Schools will be shut so that children do not have to breathe polluted air by stepping out. Virtual classes will continue. Also, the entire Delhi government will shift to WFH for a week as well,” Kejriwal said.

For private offices, the Delhi government will issue an advisory urging them to promote WFH as far as possible. However, senior government officials on condition of anonymity said the advisory will not be binding on any private office, unless a lockdown is imposed at a later stage.

The government also imposed a blanket ban on all construction activities till November 17 (Wednesday), until further orders. “As per weather reports, there will be no wind to disperse pollutants in the air between November 14-17 and smoke from stubble burning in the neighbouring states will continue to come. It looks like the situation during these day could worsen. So, during this time, all construction activities will be shut,” the chief minister said.

Delhi’s air quality saw only a minor improvement on Saturday. CPCB recordings showed that the overall air quality index of Delhi was 437. While this was a marginal improvement from Friday’s 471, which was the highest recording for the season, this was the third consecutive day that the Capital’s air remained in the dangerous zone, posing severe health risks to residents.

Scientists at the India Meteorological Department (IMD) warned that while Saturday’s improvement in air quality was a result of slight improvement in wind speeds and reduction in moisture levels in the atmosphere, this relief is only temporary. From November 14, winds will start slowing down again and remain so till November 17.

“The winds picked up today (Saturday) and by afternoon reached around 12kmph. This helped clear out the haze a little. The impact of these winds will be seen till Sunday morning but after that wind speeds will reduce again and pollution levels will start rising,” said VK Soni, head of the IMD’s environment and research centre.

Kejriwal said pollution levels in Delhi were satisfactory till September 30. “But the air quality started deteriorating due to stubble burning from neighbouring states. This is not the time to play a blame game. The Centre will do what it needs to and the same goes for other states,” he said.

Based on IMD’s forecast, the sub-committee of the Commission for Air Quality Management in Delhi-NCR and adjoining areas (CAQM) for the implementation of Grap conducted a meeting on Saturday but no additional measures were suggested. The sub-committee, however, has asked government agencies to “be prepared” to implement emergency measures listed under Grap “in short notice” looking at the unfavourable weather forecast. The minutes of the meeting also indicated that if pollution worsens some additional measures that will be “deemed necessary” to control the rising levels will also be put in place.

School administrators in Delhi said they will comply with the government orders.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Soumya Pillai covers environment and traffic in Delhi. A journalist for three years, she has grown up in and with Delhi, which is often reflected in the stories she does about life in the city. She also enjoys writing on social innovations.

  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Sweta Goswami writes on urban development, transport, energy and social welfare in Delhi. She prefers to be called a storyteller and has given voice to several human interest stories. She is currently cutting her teeth on multimedia storytelling.

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