I wrote an article “Can Delhi breathe cleaner air this winter?” (goo.gl/oB7VMh) during the onset of stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and UP. But, alas, hopes of the people have been dashed despite so many measures, as advertised, by several pollution-control authorities (CPCB, SPCBs, NGT, municipal bodies and, more importantly, by a powerful SC-appointed EPCA and its Graded Response Action Plan).
Beijing, the capital of China, appears to have turned the tide in its battle against air pollution in five years through an action plan launched in 2013. The air pollution of Beijing of PM2.5 has come down by 54% on average with commensurate improvement in other parameters.
How Beijing made it happen? Research found that emissions from vehicles and dust generated by construction/digging activities and road cleaning etc accounted for most air pollution. Further, 45% of PM2.5 was produced by vehicles only, diesel trucks being the worst offenders. So, Beijing set doable targets and made sure they are achieved. For this, the government restricted movement of diesel trucks within the city and major cargo corridors in and out of Beijing, resulting in reduction of PM2.5 pollution by 35%. All construction-related activities were banned from November 15, 2017, to March 15, 2018. Carbon emissions reduction was strictly imposed on heavily polluting industries.
Why Delhi, like Beijing, could not tackle air pollution? There are differences in the approaches of Delhi NCR and Beijing NCR (Beijing-Tianjin-Heber).
First, Delhi needed to have at least 10,000 buses by December 31, 2018, as per SC order, but today Delhi has a fleet of 5,443 buses while Beijing has 28,343. Further, Delhi and Beijing have metro network length of 314-km and 608-km, respectively. These figures, when seen in light of their comparable populations of 21.7 million and 20 million, respectively, show that use of private cars, two- and three-wheelers, and taxis is bound to be much higher in Delhi NCR.
Second, SC had ordered building of peripheral expressways so that diesel trucks, not destined for Delhi, do not enter the city. However, these have been completed only now after 13 years. The impact of Kundli-Manesar-Palwal (KMP) expressway will only be felt after some time. Beijing has already reduced its emissions by 34% by restructuring movement of diesel trucks.
Third, While Delhi NCR banned all construction activities only for 12-15 days stating November1, Beijing enforced it for four months last year and this year too ensured that measures are taken to suppress dust. Delhi must enforce a long-period ban on construction-related activities in all 15 hotspots (already identified) right from the time the pollution touches poor category.
Fourth, upgrading to zig-zag technology of highly-polluting brick-klins industry to be completed before the start of winter has been partially done. Also, the ban on use of coal in industries (50,000 still in residential areas) after October 30 is not effectively implemented according to NGT.
Fifth, although fewer stubble-burning cases have been observed in 2018 as compared to 2017, the situation is far from satisfactory. This is because the price of ‘happy seeder’ (`1.25-1.5 lakh) is still prohibitive for small farmers who constitute a majority.
The main sources of air pollution in NCR are more or less of the same nature as in case of Beijing, except that the former has an additional source from stubble burning. While stubble burning has to be completely stopped, pollution from other sources has to be controlled by strict enforcement of time-bound ambitious targets and honest monitoring, as Beijing has done.
Let us not give an impression to the world that targets can be met only in a communist regime, and not by a democratic government.