The menace of air pollution continues to trouble national capital Delhi and its adjoining areas this year, despite the governments at the Centre and the state claiming to have taken numerous measures to tackle the problem. Residents of Delhi-NCR continue to battle health hazards despite promises and claims by authorities year after year. Such claims and promises have become a routine annual affair, offering false hope that the next year will be better.
So, Delhi is yet again faced with the possibility of dealing with the odd-even car rationing scheme. An added proposal this year is banning non-CNG vehicles from plying on roads. On Wednesday, the Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) wrote a letter Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) suggesting that air pollution can only be controlled either by a ban on all non-CNG vehicles or introduction of the odd-even scheme once again in which all private vehicles are included. The letter also asked CPCB to discuss the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) task force option.
In its letter, EPCA said that vehicles cause 40 per cent of the total emission load in the national capital and 30 per cent of emissions in the NCR. “Even after removing trucks and other diesel commercial vehicles, which are the highest segment of this pollution load, the remaining vehicles add up to substantial load, particularly private diesel vehicles which contribute substantially to both NOx and PM emissions,” stated the letter.
The need for such radical measures comes primarily because of the failure of the governments to address the issue before it turned into an emergency. The phenomenon of pollution and the risks it poses to citizens, especially children and senior citizens, is not new. Manufacturers of masks and air purifiers do brisk business during this period every year and school kids and office-goers are seen covering their faces to protect themselves from deadly pollution.
On its part, the government has initiated steps this year to control pollution. This included a ban on entry of heavy vehicles from November 8 to November 11, ban on construction, urging people to stay indoors, avoid morning walks and exercises outdoors, ban on burning of plastic among others. None of these steps seems to have helped tackle pollution till now.
What’s more, even the Supreme Court’s order on bursting crackers was violated by the people. In its order dated October 23, the apex court allowed bursting of ‘green’ crackers. Also, it had fixed the time limit between 8pm-10 pm for the bursting of capital in Delhi and adjoining areas. But people ended up bursting crackers beyond the time limit. Authorities also imposed fines for bursting polluting crackers as well as other activities that were causing pollution, but to no avail.
While last year, the AQI level was recorded 367 on Diwali, this year it was even worse having recorded at 642.
Last year and the year before, the Delhi government had introduced the odd-even scheme in the national capital. The scheme was welcomed by the people. While some fines were collected, the impact on pollution was minimal. In 2017, while fines were imposed on 10,058 vehicles for violating odd-even scheme, in the second phase, fines were imposed on 8,988 vehicles.
While similar steps are taken by the Centre and state governments every year, not much is seen on the ground and people continue to suffer. Instead of focussing on air pollution during this time, one expects the Centre and the state governments to come up with a proper action plan to help people breathe easy. With governments in Delhi, Punjab and Haryana promising to chalk out a solution to stubble-burning, identified as a major pollutant. Rules were framed, penalties were imposed but the impact has been negligible.
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The cooperation that different state governments promised soon turned into a tug of war between Delhi and Punjab chief ministers recently. While Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal blamed stubble burning by farmers in Punjab and Haryana for the problem, his Punjab counterpart blamed AAP government in Delhi for shifting the blame.