GRAP, to a limited extent, may help tackle air pollution in NCR, but a long-term pollution vision is required.
The Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) to control air pollution in Delhi kicked in on October 15, but the air quality index (AQI) is predicted to remain ‘very poor’ or worsen to ‘severe’. Under GRAP, are proactive measures like odd-even, use of diesel generators, shutting down brick kilns and stone crushers, etc. But, such action, no matter how necessary it seems, is just an episodic response. Thus, it means pollution is not addressed, merely mitigated to the extent these measures make possible—which is, as the AQI predictions show, nowhere nearly enough.
Biomass burning, a seasonal phenomenon, will contribute to the NCR’s air becoming noxious while the many exemptions in Delhi’s odd-even plan mean it will hardly make a dent on reducing pollutant levels. The fact is practices like crop stubble burning continue despite the government’s attempt to crack down on it, and even cajole farmers away from it. While there is a ban and steep fines, these have hardly deterred farmers in Punjab and Haryana. On top, a court-ordered stay on collection of fines slapped last year has meant a chilling effect on challaning this year.
Despite the heavy subsidies for paddy-management equipment, and even government schemes to rent machinery, crop burning has seen a 25% increase in Punjab this year so far. Similarly, the sweeping efficiency of the mechanised road sweepers—based on fuel consumed and length of road swept—needs to vastly improve, as a Teri study has pointed out. The government must continue with GRAP, but also chart a long-term course for effectively fighting pollution. Else, it would just be administering homeopathic doses when urgent surgery is required.