City needs aggressive and time bound action to meet clean air standards and reduce public health risk, says non-profit Centre for Science and environment
The National Green Tribunal has slammed the Delhi government for the worsening air quality in the capital, and has issued stringent directives to check the pollution. During a ruling on November 26, the Tribunal noted that air pollution in the capital city is “getting worse with each passing day”, and identified vehicular pollution and burning of plastic as the main culprits.
The green court has ordered all vehicles older than 15 years to be taken off Delhi’s roads. Such vehicles should also not be parked in a public place. This directive applies to all vehicles, including bikes, scooters, cars, buses and trucks. Another important directive of the Tribunal is that “no person shall be permitted to burn plastic or any other material in the open”.
“We applaud the Tribunal’s urgency on Delhi’s pollution which is reaching toxic levels,” Chandra Bhushan, deputy director-general of Delhi-based non-profit, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), said. He has called for tougher measures to compensate for the “1,000 new vehicles coming on the roads each day”. He adds that the government has a legal obligation to implement the Tribunal’s orders.This is reflected in the ruling as well, which states, “It is a constitutional and statutory duty of all the authorities and ministries to provide clean air to the people to breathe.”
Delhi most polluted city
A World Health Organization report released earlier this year said that Delhi is the most polluted city in the world, beating Beijing in China. The national capital was found to have the highest concentration of PM2.5—particulate matters that cause serious respiratory problems. According to AnumitaRoychowdhury, who heads CSE’s Air Pollution Control unit, air pollution is the fifth largest killer in India.
The Tribunal also criticised Prime Minister NarendraModi’s government for failing to provide any “substantive” action plan to tackle Delhi’s smog-filled air.
CSE calls for more stringent measures
CSE welcomed the 14-point action agenda directed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to clean up the air of Delhi. At the same time it called for more stringent measures to bring down the severe peak pollution levels in Delhi.
Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director-research and advocacy, at CSE said the NGT order is a step in the right direction but added, “a periodic assessment of the effectiveness of the action plan is needed to ensure peak pollution levels during winter are brought down and the clean air target is met. That may require additional and more stringent measures. The ambit of the action plan should also be expanded to the entire national capital region (NCR) of Delhi for effective impact.”
The NGT direction on the 14-point action agenda includes ban on 15-year-old personal and commercial vehicles; bypass of transit traffic; ban on burning of plastic; community surveillance of violation of pollution laws; prohibition on parking on carriageway or tar road; only one side of the road in the market places to be used for parking; implementation of cycle tracks; Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses to be checked for violation of emissions norms and to be taken off the road if found non-compliant; checks on overloading of trucks and installation of automatic weighing machines across the borders; and air purifiers in market places.
CSE review of the action plan is as follows:
• Several measures in the action plan, including ban on open burning, ban on 15-year-old commercial vehicles and bypassing of transit traffic are already part of Delhi government’s regulations. But these have not been enforced well. NGT’s intervention can help to ensure effective compliance and enforcement of these measures and more.
• All older and polluting personal vehicles require stringent action. However, polluting vehicles are distributed across vehicle vintages. This will additionally require very rigorous inspection. Also road side inspection is needed to catch, fine and weed out the visibly polluting vehicles. Similar steps will have to be taken for vehicles crossing Delhi’s borders.
• Some of the proposed measures may have unintended consequences and may even defeat the purpose pollution reduction. For instance, the proposed ban on parking on motorised carriageway to cut congestion without additional safeguards and riders can increase parking pressure on footpaths and cycle tracks. This will undermine zero pollution walking and cycling and also compromise public transport usage. NGT may give direction to remove all parking from footpaths and cycle tracks and make this non-negotiable. It may be complemented with strict enforcement to remove illegal parking along with effective parking charges for legal parking in public spaces — both commercial and residential areas.
• In addition to keeping an eye on the emissions levels of DTC buses, NGT may also broaden the scope to give direction to the DTC and Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System (DIMTS) to improve reliable bus service with adequate route coverage and frequency of bus service that can be monitored and verified. These agencies should be made accountable for improving bus service so that along with metro the share of public transport trips can be increased significantly and polluting vehicles can be reduced on roads.
• More stringent pollution emergency measures may be identified to bring down the peak pollution levels in the city. Soft options have all been exhausted in Delhi. The city needs aggressive and time bound action to meet clean air standards and reduce public health risk. The real time official air quality data indicate that at the onset of the winter the particulate pollution levels have started to exceed the standards several times over.
• NGT may also broaden the scope of the action plan to include the entire NCR for effective impact.
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