Given that the air quality in the national capital region (NCR) is already deteriorating, the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) for curbing the annual winter pollution kicking in from October 1—a fortnight earlier than usual—is a good initiative. This time, the Commission for Air Quality Management in the NCR and Adjoining Areas, which drafts the GRAP, has tied it to air quality index (AQI) thresholds instead of just particulate matter thresholds. This is a welcome shift, signalling a more cogent view of air pollution hazards. There is also a provision for preemptive action in case the AQI is forecast to worsen to very poor, severe, or severe+. Meanwhile, the Central Pollution Control Board is reported to have formed 40 teams for monitoring GRAP implementation, and the Delhi government has formed a ‘war-room’ to implement pollution control measures over and above those prescribed by GRAP, with a citizen-feedback/complaint system in place through the Green Delhi app. All of this are designed to ensure cleaner winter air for the NCR, but there are still many critical gaps that need to be filled.
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The national capital is reported to have less than half the construction waste processing capacity it requires, and has achieved just a tenth of its construction and demolition waste recycling target. Also, it doesn’t have essential equipment for controlling road dust—which accounts for over 14% of the PM10 pollution in the NCR—in the needed numbers. And, even as the city generates 11,357 tonnes per day of municipal solid waste, it has the capacity to process less than half of this. This means a large proportion of the solid waste generation is likely to get burnt. Biomass and solid waste burning contributes close to 17% of PM10 pollution and 26% of PM2.5 pollution. A green war room, winter action plan, etc, are all important measures, but without infrastructural adequacy, preparedness for fighting pollution—NCR sees the maximum number of severe AQI days during winter—doesn’t inspire much confidence. There is an urgent need to boost capacity in key areas of pollution control, and the Delhi government and the Centre must take all the necessary steps towards this.
That apart, there is a need for stepping up coordination on controlling stubble burning. Paddy stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana to ready the fields for rabi sowing, as is known, renders the air in NCR acrid and unbreathable. To that end Delhi CM and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal has exhorted the Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh administrations to mount pollution control efforts on a war-footing. In the past few years, the Delhi government has blamed the governments of the neighbouring states for failing to act on stubble burning. Now, with an AAP government in Punjab, the party needs to ensure that more meaningful efforts are undertaken in that state. Already, the cases of stubble burning are on the rise in Punjab. The need now is for the AAP leadership to drive pollution action in Punjab, especially on stubble burning. The Delhi government is distributing free bio-decomposers—these aid faster decomposition—for 5,000 acres of farm-land in the national capital. Similar provisions, including timely and adequate availability of machines for in-situ stubble management, need to be rolled out for Punjab. Without this, by the Delhi government’s own assessment, ‘severe’ AQI days could rise four-five times this winter.