Delhi’s air has turned unbreathable after Diwali with the air quality deteriorating to hazardous levels. A thick layer of smog has engulfed the Capital and refuses to dissipate. Delhi government announced measures to address the pressing issue recently but none seem to be ingenious, effective or drastic enough to reduce the alarmingly high pollution levels in the city with quick effect.
Over the last 4-5 days, air pollution in certain areas in Delhi has spiked up to 42 times the safe limit. The city overall averages air pollution around 8-10 times bad air quality than the prescribed limits which itself is much higher than the WHO prescribed safe limits.
WATCH VIDEO: Death By Breath: Short Documentary On Indian Express’ Special Series On Delhi’s Pollution
Out of the 6 locations the Delhi Pollution Control Committee monitors in the Capital for ambient air quality, at least five had a PM 10 level which is at least over 7 times the Indian prescribed limit and over 12 times the WHO prescribed limit on Thursday early afternoon. Similarly, the even more harmful PM 2.5 levels hovered at least five times over the danger mark at around the same time.
The citizens have not helped the air pollution situation in the city much with Diwali turning the city into a gas chamber of sorts. Here are some steps that the government can look to for reducing the air pollution as emergency measures:
New legislation to curb air pollution
The government needs to formulate a new legislation that would regulate the emission to pollutants into the atmosphere by different actors. There are already laws in place for automobile emissions, but they desperately needs upgradation to higher standards even at the cost of heavy investments in fuel advancements and technology upgradation by automobile manufacturers–corporate partnership is crucial in this regard. A lot of pollution is caused by factories and dirty industries that emit smoke, noxious gaseous and harmful particulate matter into the air. There are measures available to refine chimney emissions like pulse jet cleaning systems, cyclone separators, precipitators etc which reduce pollutants and PM particles from the emission.
Using sprinklers and curbing dust pollution
A major chunk of the PM particles in the air are dust and controlling dust suspension in the air is crucial. The Supreme Court has given directives to use vacuum cleaning on roads, sprinkling and washing of roads and buildings and covering construction sites to prevent dust from spreading into the surrounding environment. Implementation is the only lagging factor. Vacuum cleaners are nowhere to be seen on roads. Sprinkling has not been done and construction sites still remain open despite heavy fines liable on offenders–regardless of the construction being done by individuals or builders.
Closing schools, offices, factories and obligatory public gathering places for short time
It is also important to keep the people from being exposed to the hazardous air for long as it leads to serious health implications. Beijing which has suffered the brunt of air pollution due to the obsession over rapid economic and industrial advancement. Lung Cancer cases in the Chinese capital have increased by 60 per cent over the last decade. So the situation is grave and needs immediate countermeasures. Countries like China have in the past closed down whole cities like Beijing when the air pollution crossed the danger mark and directed people to stay indoors to avoid exposure to the toxic air.
Taking off certain class of vehicles on high air pollution days
The government must send out daily health updates relating to air quality and also direct taking off certain class of vehicles like heavy polluting diesel vehicles off the roads on days when air pollution levels are at a high. It must also ensure that traffic is run smoothly and proper parking spaces are demarcated as traffic jams contribute massively to air pollution. Around 10 percent of the land in Delhi is occupied by automobiles, according to a research by the Jawaharlal Nehru University. Lack of proper parking spaces leads to people parking their cars on road which narrow down the navigable asphalt for vehicles increasing jams and pollution.
Limiting the number of cars on road and cars owned by per family
The government can also take a cue from countries like France and China who have in the past limited the numbers of cars a family can own depending upon the number of independent and dependent persons. It can also promote safer public transport measures including transport for last mile connectivity. It needs to boost confidence of people in public transport. Safety on roads and last mile connectivity itself will boost confidence to travel by public transport.
Revisit the odd and even scheme
Although revisiting the scheme will not dissipate the smog hovering over the breathable atmosphere in Delhi immediately, it would reduce the emissions massively and help the air pollution situation over a staggered time period. Delhi government’s odd-even scheme came under much criticism when it was announced last year but once implemented much of the city appreciated the changes seen in the air pollution levels and the reduced traffic congestion on roads.