In January 2017, the Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution Prevention and Control Authority (EPCA) put in place a Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) that focuses on taking progressively tougher measures without waiting for a pollution emergency. Data released by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) on Monday shows that the plan has made an appreciable difference in Delhi’s air quality. People in the city could breathe air of “satisfactory or moderate” quality on 118 days between January 1 and August 26.
This is somewhat better than 113 days of such air quality in the same period last year, and a significant improvement from 2016 when Delhi’s air quality was satisfactory or moderate on only 74 days. However, the fact that air of “poor”, “very poor” and “severe” quality has dogged Delhi’s residents in 120 of 238 days this year should be reason enough to see GRAP as a work in progress.
More importantly, the figures released on Monday pertain to a period when climatic conditions, by and large, keep a check on pollution. It is well-known that Delhi’s air quality deteriorates between October and December, when post harvest crop-residue burning in neighbouring states and pollution from Diwali festivities combine with the emissions from tailpipes of vehicles to envelope the city in an unhealthy haze. Last year, GRAP’s record was mixed during this peak pollution period. Despite a ban on crackers during Diwali, Delhi’s pollution levels exceeded the normal levels by 10-15 times in the week after the festival.
To their credit, EPCA, CPCB and the other agencies in charge of controlling Delhi’s air pollution are beginning to recognise that a sustainable solution to the problem requires a multi-pronged approach. CPCB has begun monitoring PM 2.5 hotspots in the city. The agency also plans to use technologies that suck particulate matter and release fresh air. There is also talk of coordinating with pollution control agencies in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to mitigate the effects of crop residue burning.
The authorities responsible for Delhi’s air quality would, however, do well to improve coordination among themselves. Last year, when the city was experiencing its worst spell of bad air, a squabble between the National Green Tribunal and the Delhi government prevented the implementation of the odd-even scheme. GRAP requires at least 16 agencies, to work together. Going by last year’s evidence, much work still needs to be done on that front.