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Friday, December 03, 2021

Delhi-NCR AQI severe, no respite in offing: Desperate measures

As possibility of a lockdown is explored, experts say such drastic steps to curb pollution defeat the purpose of a graded action plan

Written by Abhinaya Harigovind | New Delhi |
Updated: November 14, 2021 1:04:45 pm
Supreme Court, Delhi government, Delhi air pollution, delhi aqi, delhi air pollutants, Delhi Smog, Delhi weather, air pollution, Council on Energy, Environment and Water, carbon monoxide ozone, Air Quality, farm firesThe air quality index of neighbouring areas of Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Gurgaon and Noida was recorded at 312, 368, 301 and 357, respectively.(Express Photo: Gajendra Yadav)

As the Supreme Court asks the Centre and Delhi government to deliberate if a lockdown is needed as a measure against alarming pollution levels in the national capital, some experts are against the idea altogether, while others believe a safety net would first have to be provided for those whose livelihoods might be impacted. Experts also believe any measure would have to be implemented across the NCR, and not just in Delhi, for any impact to be seen in the seasonal phenomenon of air pollution levels shooting through the roof.

The apex court Saturday asked the Delhi and Union governments to inform it if “emergency measures” like “lockdown for two days” or “stopping vehicles” should be imposed to prevent further worsening of air quality.

“If a lockdown is imposed, a safety net will have to be provided for those whose livelihoods are impacted,” said Karthik Ganesan, fellow and director of research coordination, Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW).

“If a lockdown is required to be done, it will have to be done in the entire NCR. There should be uniform policy implementation, so that we can see the impact on toxicity reduction. If Delhi does something and the others don’t, then that does not serve the purpose,” said Dipankar Saha, former additional director, Central Pollution Control Board, and former head of the air quality monitoring division in Delhi.

Ganesan also pointed to enough not being done in advance: “The forecasting systems saw this coming, and there’s a Decision Support System in place. They have not used the DSS.” He was referring to a system developed by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) to use a modelling system to try and trace the contribution of different sources of emissions to enable the government to make decisions.

On the Graded Response Action Plan, Ganesan said: “If you know something’s going to happen, you should be able to take action to preclude it from happening. You can’t have these discussions when you are at the bottom of the pit. When you know things are beginning to spiral down, you try to control it then, which is why it is called a ‘graded’ plan. The concept of GRAP needs to be overhauled, from where we need to have experienced it for 48 hours for changes to be implemented.” At the moment, particulate matter levels need to have remained above the ‘emergency’ level for 48 hours for measures under the ‘emergency’ category to be invoked.

“While there is some contribution from stubble burning, we need to act on contributions from within Delhi-NCR as well,” said Sachchida Nand Tripathi, professor at IIT-Kanpur, who has specialised in environmental engineering.

“Model data sets show that vehicles and industry are significant contributors to sources. The overall efficiency and efficacy of short-term measures is questionable — they will have a limited effect. But, stopping burning and industrial and construction activity is something we can do to help now, along with controlling vehicular emissions. These are very simple, but implementing them is the question,” said Tripathi, who added that a lockdown would have adverse consequences since people are just getting back to their normal economic activities.

“We can reduce toxicity at the ground level through reduction of emissions,” Saha said.

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