Staff crunch threatens to derail pollution fight in Delhi
Delhi and its surrounding areas are now under the winter phase of the Graded Response Action Plan (Grap), a protocol that curbs certain sets of polluting activities based on the state of the air quality in the area.Updated: Oct 20, 2020, 05:13 IST
Two of the key agencies responsible for ensuring the Capital follows its emergency air pollution action plan have been hobbled by staff crunch, according to data and some current employees who spoke to HT, raising questions about the city’s preparedness as it heads into the pre-winter period when air quality is known to plunge into hazardous levels.
Delhi and its surrounding areas are now under the winter phase of the Graded Response Action Plan (Grap), a protocol that curbs certain sets of polluting activities based on the state of the air quality in the area. The implementation and its compliance fall in the domain of the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
Documents seen by HT show that in DPCC, out of the sanctioned staff strength of 343, only 103 positions are occupied. This includes executive and ministerial staff who do not contribute towards on-ground enforcement. In the team that is responsible for spot checks and patrolling, there are only 37 officials.
Similarly, CPCB, a central body in-charge of overseeing pollution monitoring and enforcement, across the country has about 125 positions vacant in the Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR) region alone. At present, there are 280 staffers with the agency in the Delhi-NCR region.
DPCC officials travel the length and breadth of the 1,483 square kilometres that make up Delhi, ensuring — when required — that construction work is halted, diesel-run power generators are not used, and brick kilns, hot mix plants and stone crushers are shut down. They also monitor civic staff to make sure dust control measures are being applied effectively.
“An official who comes in the morning has to also manage night patrolling, which means he has to clock 24 hours. For years there have been no promotions and the teams are on a verge of a collapse. Nobody raises this issue because the work is not affected, but the truth is that the teams here are severely overworked,” a DPCC official said, asking not to be named.
Bhure Lal, the chairperson of Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution (Prevent and Control) Authority, the body that is ultimately in charge of the air pollution action plan, said that the situation in these agencies is a hindrance to enforcement. “Many of these officials are assigned for court duties and other tasks. These teams are majorly overworked and have great tasks in front of them and at some point work will get affected,” said Lal.
In an official response, DPCC said that the pollution control body had made a requisition to the Delhi Subordinate Services Selection Board (DSSSB) for the recruitment of Group B and C (middle and lower rung) posts but the process is still underway. Along with the permanent positions, the department has also requested for 126 contractual staff and 50 junior engineer and steno positions to be filled.
“All the important and essential staff is in place, only some grade-2 and steno positions are to be filled,” the DPCC said in its response to HT’s queries. “Presently, no proposal/note has been sent for additional staff/increasing or augmentation of the sanctioned strength,” it added.
A DPCC official, asking not to be named, said that while the problem of inadequate staff has been haunting the department for many years now, it is felt most acutely when the strict winter phase of the Grap is implemented.
“During winter season, the work for teams double. They have to ensure that all the measures listed under Grap are being implemented and all violations need to be checked. On a good day, a team is able to cover four to five locations. Enforcement will surely be better if we have more hands on board,” said the official.
As far as the Centre-run CPCB is concerned, it advertised in May to fill 48 jobs, including posts for scientist-B, junior scientific assistant, senior technician, junior technician and junior lab assistant. The pandemic has delayed the hiring process, a CPCB official said, asking not to be named.
This official added that the agency also is struggling with inadequate funds. “The CPCB this year received a budgetary allocation of ₹100 crore, which is barely enough for the size of operations handled by it,” this person added.
Prashant Gargava, member secretary, CPCB, did not respond to calls and text messages from HT seeking a comment.
A Union ministry spokesperson redirected queries to CPCB, where no response was available.
Representatives of municipal corporations, which are responsible for dust suppression measures, regular cleaning and periodic watering of streets, and proper disposal of garbage, said they too are facing similar problems.
The three municipal bodies (north, south and east Delhi municipal corporations) together have around 8,000 staff, a number officials say is inadequate for a city of nearly 20 million people.
“With the added responsibilities during peak pollution months, we (north corporation) need at least 10,000 to 15,000 additional people in our workforce to manage the tasks assigned to us,” said Jai Prakash, the mayor of north Delhi, an area that consistently records some of the most polluted AQI numbers.
The mayor added that they also lack funds and blamed the Delhi government for the problem. “The Delhi government is portraying that they are doing so much for controlling pollution but the truth is that all this is a mere show, if they truly cared they would release the funds they owed to the corporations,” he said.
The MCDs are headed by members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which sits in opposition in the assembly where chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has the overwhelming majority.
AAP’s in-charge for Delhi municipalities, Durgesh Pathak, said on Monday that BJP’s councillors are responsible for the poor condition of the municipal agencies in the city. “In the last 14 years, they have only spread corruption and have not done any good for them. Their councillors have only stolen from Delhi to fill their own pockets. I am not saying this, former Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari agreed that corruption is up to the brim in the management that runs municipalities. All their problems are rooted in their own actions.”
Vivek Chattopadhyay, senior program manager, clean air programme, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), said that the city’s pollution control boards need to hire more skilled people to increase efficiency. “Every country has deficiencies but we need to work smartly to overcome these deficiencies. If you can’t hire more numbers, hire more skilled people and give them technological support, so that they can work more efficiently and the work is not affected,” Chattopadhyay said.