As Delhi goes to polls on February 8, it is expected that one in every 10 voters will keep in mind the air crisis faced by the city every year, as per a recent survey by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). Nearly half of over 2,000 people surveyed by the CSDS said pollution was a big problem in the city.
All major political parties have spoken about the need to tackle this crisis, but a close eye would be kept on their manifestos, expected to be released this week, to see if the issue finds a mention.
The ruling Aam Aadmi Party has issued a 10-point guarantee card, which promises to reduce air pollution three times the present levels, planting 2 crore trees, and improving public transportation by bringing in more than 11,000 buses and increasing the metro network.
The Congress is planning to come out with a separate manifesto on pollution in the city. “We held detailed consultations with experts and took their suggestions for this,” said Puja Bahri, part of the party’s manifesto committee.
For the BJP, tackling pollution would feature into the manifesto as one of their top five priority focuses, which were decided based on suggestions from the public.
“We would tackle it by improving public transport, installing smog towers, bringing more DTC and electric buses, expanding the metro network and planting more trees. We have consulted environment, water and transport experts over this,” said BJP spokesperson Rahul Trivedi.
Figures shared by the Central Pollution Control Board show the air quality of the capital has been improving every year since 2016, with the number of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ air days becoming roughly the same in 2019.
There were 108 ‘good, satisfactory and moderate’ air quality days in 2016, which increased to 152 in 2017 and 159 in 2018, and further to 182 in 2019. The number of ‘poor, very poor and severe’ air quality days were 246 in 2016, and decreased to 213 in 2017 and 206 in 2018, and further to 183 in 2019.
CPCB officials said the air quality was still above the required standards annually, but measures including opening of peripheral expressway around Delhi and closure of Badarpur thermal power station in 2018, shifting industries to piped natural gas and use of BS6 fuel have helped.
The latest measure being taken by the Central and Delhi governments to curb air pollution, on directions of the Supreme Court, is to install two smog towers in the city, in Connaught Place and Anand Vihar. The project is being headed by IIT-Bombay in collaboration with IIT-Delhi and the University of Minnesota. The latter helped design a similar tower of over 100 metres in China’s Xi’an city.
Smog towers are structures designed to work as large-scale air purifiers. They are usually fitted with multiple layers of air filters, which clean the air of pollutants as it passes through them. In Delhi, project experts estimate that the 20-metre high towers would reduce 50% of particulate matter load in an area 1 km in the direction of the wind, as well as 200 metres each along the sides of the tower and against the wind.
However, environment experts have been skeptical about the efficiency of smog towers in tackling air pollution. Project experts have previously said the towers would create “clean air zone” around them, but would not be the solution to the pollution crisis in the city. An expert from IIT-B, who is in-charge of the project in Delhi, said, “We are researchers and this will be a research and development project (on the towers’ impact).”
A large scale air purifier was installed by the Traders Association Lajpat Nagar in its Central Market recently, with help from east Delhi MP Gautam Gambhir, who tweeted five days’ air quality index (AQI) readings after the purifier became operational in the market. The readings show the AQI on one day dropped from 273 to 87 near the purifier.
A member of Gautam Gambhir Foundation said, “The purifier costs around Rs 7-10 lakh and runs on electricity.”
But smog towers as a measure for curbing air pollution have received mixed reaction from the public, said Atul Goyal, president of the United Residents Joint Action (URJA), a collective of more than 2,500 residents’ welfare associations and NGOs. Earlier this month, URJA released a ‘people’s green manifesto’ with 10 demands by residents for those contesting the polls.
The demands include 65% reduction in air pollution by 2025 to meet national standards and increasing public transport capacity for 80% of all trips in the city.
The manifesto has been shared with the AAP, Congress, BJP and the Shiromani Akali Dal.
While it remains to see how many of these demands feature in the election manifestos of the parties, Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director (research and advocacy) at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), said the problem of pollution should not be trivialised with funds and resources being diverted for non-regulatory measures. Instead, the money should be used for cutting emissions at the source.
“Delhi cannot fix this problem alone. Action needs to be across the NCR, because pollution does not have a political boundry,” Roychowdhury said.
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