Early winter showers have given residents of the National Capital Region (NCR) some relief from the post-Diwali pollution. The rains last week cleared the haze that had enveloped the area after the festival. However, by all accounts, Delhi’s tryst with unhealthy air is not over. Pollution made a re-appearance as soon as the effect of the showers receded. NCR’s air quality index (AQI) oscillated between “poor” and “very poor” for much of the weekend. Though this is a marked improvement from the “severe” and “hazardous” air that residents were breathing after Diwali, it is no rocket science that pollution control requires much more than the help of the elements.
The return of pollution underscores a fact that should have been obvious long ago: NCR’s baseline air quality is unhealthy for much of the year. The post-Diwali pollution and stubble-burning in Haryana and Punjab aggravate matters. The Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) data, released in August, shows that the NCR usually experiences its best spell of air between January and August. But the region has to contend with pollution even during this period. “Poor”, “very poor” and “severe” quality air dogged residents on at least 120 of the 244 days between January and August, CPCB’s data shows. This underscores the need for year-long pollution control strategies. It’s also clear that pollution control is much too encompassing to be left to specialised agencies like the CPCB, National Green Tribunal and Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA). Authorities mandated to deal with urban planning, industry, health, and transport have to be roped into the effort. Last year, a report of a high-level task force headed by Nripendra Misra, principal secretary to the prime minister, emphasised the need for such a multi-pronged approach. It showed an inclination to engage with an aspect that has been largely neglected in the official discourse on pollution — public transport. The Delhi government has accepted the task force’s recommendation for integrated ticket services across the Metro and DTC. The Metro has added a new line this year. Even so, the NCR’s two principal public transport systems are struggling to improve ridership.
The Centre-run System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting has not ruled out a return to post-Diwali pollution levels, and the EPCA has proposed a ban on all private vehicles in case of such an emergency. Private vehicles are, no doubt, a major reason for the pollution. But when was the last time a ban tackled pollution effectively? The NCR requires a roadmap to clean its air, not knee-jerk reactions during emergencies.