Delhi's air quality worsens, but does the city have a plan to avoid repeat of 2016?

In the past week, the PM2.5 concentration in ambient air has consistently increased in the national capital region

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 05 October 2017

Air quality has reached poor category much before the stubble burning reaches its peak in the third week of October. Credit: PixabayWinter is more than a month away and Delhi has already started experiencing spike in air pollution level. The post-monsoon paddy burning in Punjab and Haryana is back in the news despite the National Green Tribunal (NGT) announcing ban on burning of crop residue. Once again, we have reached that time of the year when both average temperature and wind speed plummet, resulting in increased concentration of particulate matter in the air.

In the past week, the PM2.5 concentration in ambient air has consistently increased in the national capital with places such as RK Puram and ITO registering PM2.5 level much higher than the prescribed standard 60 µg/m3. On October 3, PM2.5 levels in RK Puram and ITO were 127µg/m3 and 234.4µg/m3 respectively, according to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data. The air quality index (AQI) has taken a beating as well. According to SAFAR—Air Quality Information Service for cities—Delhi’s AQI is already inching closer to 300, which comes under ‘Poor’ category.

Credit: SAFAR

Air quality has reached poor category much before the stubble burning reaches its peak in the third week of October and firecrackers come into the scene during the Diwali celebrations. On top of that, winter inversion—a weather phenomenon wherein a layer of warm air traps cold air and keeps polluting particles close to the ground—is still weeks away.

Cases of open burning have increased in the last one month. Credit: NASA

Last November, the Centre declared an “emergency situation” in Delhi as the capital city witnessed severe levels of toxic air pollution and successive days of heavy smog. In the end of October, just after Diwali, crop burning in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh made the situation worse, leading to severe smog. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) suggested that the smog was the worst in 17 years. Till December 2016, 41 cities of more than a million people faced bad air quality on nearly 60 per cent of the total days monitored. Three cities—Gwalior, Varanasi and Allahabad—didn’t even manage one good air quality day.

While the Badarpur power plant will shut down from October 15 and 20 real-time pollution monitoring stations will be made functional by then, what other plans does the government have to prevent a rerun of 2016? Starting October 15, Delhi-NCR will implement the graded response action plan (GRAP) based on the AQI. Under this plan, measures will be taken to control emissions from all sources. The GRAP has been framed keeping in view the key pollution sources in Delhi and National Capital Region of Delhi (NCR). While vehicles, road dust, biomass burning, construction, power plants and industries and sources of all-weather pollution, incidents of stubble burning and biomass burning create episodic pollution with varying degrees of intensity across seasons.

READ: What is Air Quality Index? 

Every winter, the share of pollution from vehicles, biomass burning, MSW burning, firecracker, stubble burning, construction, and secondary particles increases.

Moderate to Poor   Very Poor  Severe  Severe + or Emergency 
Stop garbage burning in landfills, impose heavy fines on offender and close brick kilns and industries or enforce all pollution control regulations Stop use of diesel generator sets Close brick kilns, Hot Mix plants, Stone Crushers Stop entry of diesel truck traffic into Delhi (except essential commodities)
Enforce rules for dust control in construction activities and ban on firecrackers Enhance parking fee by 3-4 times Shut down Badarpur power plant and incentivise power generation from natural gas based plants to reduce operation of coal based power plants Stop construction activities
Enforce pollution control measures in thermal power plants through PCB monitoring Increase bus and metro services by augmenting contract buses and increasing frequency of service Intensify public transport services. Introduce differential rates to encourage off-peak travel. Introduce odd-and-even scheme for private vehicles based on license plate numbers and minimise exemptions
Periodic mechanised sweeping on unpaved roads and water sprinkling every two days Stop use of coal/firewood in hotels and open eateries Increase frequency of mechanised cleaning of road and sprinkling of water on roads. Identify road stretches with high dust generation. Task Force to take decision on any additional steps, including shutting of schools
Strict vigilance and no tolerance for visible emissions Residential Welfare Associations and individual house owners to provide electric heaters during winter to security staff to avoid open burning    
Enforce SC order on diversion of non-destined truck traffic and ensure only trucks registered after 2005 are allowed entry into Delhi Alerts in newspapers/TV to advise people with respiratory and cardiac patients to avoid polluted areas and restrict outdoor movement.    
Information dissemination through social media and mobile apps about pollution levels, contact details of control room      

According to the members of the Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA), measures to tackle 'very poor' category days will be enforced throughout the cold months from October 15 to March 15, which means waste burning will be banned and authorities will crack down on visibly polluting vehicles. The city, which is hosting matches of the U-17 FIFA World Cup starting this month, would not want to tarnish its image before the world and put its citizens's lives at risk once again.

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