Delhi air pollution: Why graded action is a good idea, but tough to implement

The intention is to take progressively strict steps even before an emergency is reached. But it will require coordination among at least 16 agencies.

Written by Mallica Joshi | New Delhi | Updated: January 18, 2017 3:29 pm
 pollution, air pollution, death by breath, pollution control, pollution control measures, how to control pollution, delhi pollution, delhi air quality, delhi air pollution, delhi government, graded response action plan, indian express news, india news, delhi news, indian express explained The intention is to take progressively strict steps even before an emergency is reached. But it will require coordination among at least 16 agencies.

The union Environment Ministry last week notified a ‘Graded Response Action Plan’ against air pollution for Delhi and the National Capital Region. The plan puts governments under the lens and holds out the promise of improvement in air quality, if followed properly. But it also faces huge challenges of implementation.

What does a ‘graded response’ to air pollution mean?

A graded response lays down stratified actions that are required to be taken as and when the concentration of pollutants, in this case particulate matter, reaches a certain level.

At the level of 100 microgrammes per cubic metre of PM 2.5, for example, mechanised sweeping and water-sprinkling along roads has to start. Traffic police personnel have to ensure smooth flow of traffic, and all pollution control measures that are already in place — such as stopping landfill fires, and enforcing Pollution Under Control (PUC) norms and a ban on firecrackers — have to be imposed strictly.

Read | Graded response action plan on Delhi air pollution notified: Some depts more ready than others

According to a Central Pollution Control Committee (CPCB) report, the average PM 2.5 level in Delhi between May 2015 and March 2016 was around 105 µg/m³.

pollution

The response will change as pollutant levels increase. In January 2016, the average PM 2.5 concentration was 211 µg/m³, with concentrations crossing 300 µg/m³ on a few days. If this level persists for more than 48 hours, an emergency will be declared, which means a return of the odd-even road rationing scheme, ban on construction activity, and no entry of trucks in Delhi unless they are carrying essential commodities.

It is in December and January that the measures will mostly be in place, as pollution levels are the highest then.

The actions under the graded response plan are cumulative in nature.

Read | Govt notifies plan: Odd-even, car curbs depending on SPM count

The plan was prepared by the Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA), which held meetings with stakeholders from all states over several months.

How will the system work practically?

The concentration of pollutants will be communicated to EPCA by a task force that will primarily comprise officials from the respective pollution control boards and India Meteorological Department. This will be an average for the entire city.

Watch Death By Breath: Documentary on Delhi’s pollution

The job of ensuring implementation of the action plan will be EPCA’s, which will delegate the responsibility to the concerned departments. According to EPCA’s report, at least 16 agencies will have to work together to implement the various parts of the plan.

These include the municipal corporations of all NCR towns, the traffic police, police, transport departments, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, Delhi Transport Corporation, Resident Welfare Associations, Public Works Departments and Central Public Works Department, Chief Controller of Explosives, and the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation. Each body has been set a task that it will have to carry out when EPCA asks it to, based on the concentration of pollutants.

What are the challenges in implementing the plan?

A large number of agencies, from different states, will have to work together — this in itself is a huge challenge. That a coordination agency — EPCA — has been appointed is the silver lining.

Some agencies have already pointed out problems in implementing the plan. During an air quality emergency, for example, odd-even has to be imposed. The Delhi government has, however, stated that it will be very difficult to implement the scheme without a notice of at least a week, so that alternative arrangements for public transport can be made and an awareness drive launched.

The municipal corporations, which have to hike parking rates by 3-4 times if the air quality is very poor, have to hold an elaborate meeting each time they change these rates.

A system will have to be devised, experts say, to smooth out these problems. The next month is expected to see a flurry of meetings involving all concerned agencies, especially pollution control authorities and state governments.

But what was the need to devise such a complex system?

According to EPCA officials, the idea is to put in place graded response actions in a way that the emergency level is never reached. The plan focuses on taking progressively tougher actions as pollution crosses each level, without waiting to impose strict measures when the emergency situation has already been reached.

During the first week of November 2016 — post Diwali — pollution levels were so high that several actions were taken simultaneously, including stopping construction, restricting the entry of trucks into Delhi, and shutting the Badarpur power plant.

Experts say that such knee-jerk reactions will not be required if the graded plan is followed. There is also a lot of stress on the strict implementation of existing rules, such as controlling crop-burning, open burning and landfill fires, implementing PUC norms and traffic rules, stopping the spread of fly ash, and regulating brick kilns.

Has such a system been tried elsewhere?

Beijing and Paris, most notably, have implemented graded action plans over the past few years. Paris recently implemented the odd-even road rationing scheme when PM 2.5 levels crossed 95 µg/m³. It also made public transport free to encourage people to leave their vehicles at home.

Several Chinese cities have a road rationing scheme when pollution reaches severe levels. They also shut schools and industries when particulate matter levels stay higher than around 300 µg/m³ for more than two days in a row, and a Red Alert is triggered.

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  1. S
    Satendra kumar
    Jan 22, 2017 at 11:32 am
    The central government should implement effective measures for controlling the environment pollution control and alternative theories that are available for Delhi maybe all states that requires for clean environment better pollution control more clean air for breathing.The effective and constructive measures should be studied conducted to every day healthy living.
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    1. R
      rocky
      Jan 19, 2017 at 5:44 pm
      China may be a good example of strict actions but this is not possible in a democracy. Yes, Paris action plan may be worth following. With odd even scheme last time, there was no co clusive proof that it improved pollution. So, first it has to be determined as to what are the major three top contributors and then devise action plans etc.
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      1. B
        BreatheFresh
        Feb 7, 2017 at 7:25 pm
        Products to purify your indoor air are now availabe at -lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Prices start at as low as Rs. 199/-.
        (0)(0)
        Reply
        1. B
          BreatheFresh
          Feb 7, 2017 at 7:27 pm
          There's a website www(dot)breathefresh(in) which is selling products to purify the indoor air in a natural way. They have five products starting at Rs. 199/-.
          (0)(0)
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          1. Kuldeep Saxena
            Jan 20, 2017 at 2:37 pm
            It is not good to just mention on pollution levels at a particular region It will be good if our policy makers are more concerned on National level. Recent past there was lot of hue and cry on burning the residual waste by the farmers in the neighboring states like Punjab, Haryana, Utter Pradesh but nobody recommended how to tackle the situation which has continued for years but one suggestion why not to rope in the Ply=wood manufacturing companies to use the residual product in the form of agricultural waste. On the other hand need of the hour is to think about the nation as a w. It is going to be a situation out of control in the times to come and some of the companies are ready to market oxygen bottles in the unexplored markets like India. We just looking at what is happening in various other countries how they are handling but we need to invite our researchers to work on out indigenous plans to tackle the situation in the times to come.
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