Even as air quality in Delhi improved to satisfactory level last week, environmental experts have cautioned that it’s no time to rejoice and asked both the central and AAP governments to step up preparedness for the winter, when air quality plummets to very poor levels.
While environmental experts want the Environment Ministry to fully notify the Supreme Court approved Comprehensive Clean Air Action plan for systemic reforms to kick start immediately, others say the foremost priority for the ministry is to roll out a national clean air programme by setting up time-bound emission targets to reduce air pollution.
With monsoon rains helping the air quality improve to satisfactory level for the first time in nearly a year, Delhiites breathed the cleanest air last week, authorities said
The south-west monsoon hit the city on June 28. The Air Quality Index (AQI) value for the capital came down to “satisfactory” 83 on June 29. AQI between 0-50 is considered “good”, 51-100 “satisfactory”, 101-200 “moderate”, 201-300 “poor”, 301-400 “very poor”, and 401-500 “severe”.
There was a dip in the air quality level on June 13 due to dust storms in western India that pushed the air quality level to “severe plus,” bringing to light that emergency level pollution could be a “summer-time problem” too.
Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director (research and advocacy) and head of CSE’s air pollution programme, told PTI that after the massive dust fall about a fortnight ago much-awaited rains have arrived to wash away the dust and particles from the air. Immediately, the levels have plummeted to below the ambient air quality standards.
Monsoon brings a short respite and provides some space to breathe free, but for how long, she asked.
“Before the rain dance ends, both the central and city governments have to step up their action and preparedness for what awaits us this winter. From seasonal air quality data every year we know this deceptive lull lasts only till September as the pollution fury returns with vengeance in October,” she said.
She said Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) cannot face another deadly-winter smog and the Environment Ministry needs to fully notify the Supreme Court approved Comprehensive Clean Air Action plan for systemic reforms to kick start immediately.
“Governments of Delhi and the NCR have to stop use of dirty fuels including petcoke and furnace in industries; permanently close the Badarpur power plant; eliminate waste burning with stringent waste management measures; make all infrastructure and building,” Roychowdhury suggested.
“Construction agencies liable for dust control or face stringent penal action; only allow those brick kilns with zig zag technology; and while stepping up action to improve public transport and metro integration with last mile connectivity across Delhi and NCR, enforce parking restraints and parking pricing immediately. Not doing any of these is not an option. Pollution is not an act of god,” she said.
Similar views were expressed by Sunil Dahiya, senior campaigner at Greenpeace India who pointed out that what needs to be understood is that air pollution is present all year round, irrespective of seasons.
“Let’s not forget that it was just couple of weeks ago when the pollution rose to staggering level in Delhi due to dust storms that pushed the air quality level to ‘severe’ establishing that air pollution emergency goes beyond seasons.
“We must not rejoice about the improved air quality as it might be just for few rainy days which is governed by the meteorological factors and not by controlling the ‘sources of pollution’ or reducing or removing them,” he said.
He called for more comprehensive action on sources of pollution for sustained clean air.
According to Dahiya, the foremost priority for the environment ministry is to roll out the national clean air programme by setting up time-bound emission targets to reduce air pollution.
This programme in a more targeted and accountable format can be the framework to ensure compliance to their commitment towards tackling air pollution from multiple source, he said.
“It’s already over a month that the recommendations from multiple stakeholders were sent to the ministry and what happened to the comments should be communicated to the public. Air pollution is a national public health emergency and the big polluters must be held accountable for the menace,” Dahiya said.
He pointed out that earlier, a study by the Louisiana State University recommended 13 measures that can reduce pollution-related premature deaths, which stand at 9 lakh a year.
The policy measures with the largest potential for air quality improvements are reducing emissions from thermal power plants, instituting strong emissions standards for industries, reducing solid fuel use in households, shifting to zig-zag kilns in brick-making, and introducing stronger vehicular emissions standards in an accelerated schedule.
He added that all these should reflect in a target and time- bound national clean air programme with clear and fixed accountability of the authorities.