NCR’s annual battle for clear skies begins

Winter is almost here and the perennial battle of the National Capital Region (NCR) against air pollution, arising out of both local factors and the burning of agricultural stubble, has begun once again.

Air pollution control measures under the “very poor” and “severe” categories of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) have been enforced in the NCR cities from October 15, and enforcement of anti-pollution norms by various agencies is currently under way. Whether these are able to rein in air pollution, especially with the added risk presented by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic this year, remains to be seen.

The GRAP is a set of emergency measures to be taken to reduce air pollution, including odd-even vehicle rationing policy, depending on the level of pollution. Currently, a ban is in place on the use of diesel generators in NCR cities, except for emergency purposes.

GRAP measures

The Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority (EPCA) had written to various States earlier this month to implement the GRAP measures.

If the pollution of Delhi further increases, then GRAP measures under “severe+ or emergency” category will kick in.

These measures, include stopping entry of trucks into Delhi, stopping construction activities and implementing the odd-even scheme. The severe+ measures are implemented when the PM2.5 level crosses 300 microgram per cubic metre or PM10 level crosses 500 microgram per cubic metre and persist for 48 hours or more.

The Delhi government has been carrying out an anti-dust campaign and has imposed fines as high as ₹50 lakh on a single violator.

The New Delhi Municipal Corporation was fined ₹1 crore for inaction against open garbage burning in its limits.

According to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the Delhi government has also delineated 13 pollution hotspots across the Capital for which specific plans are being created for implementation of anti-pollution action. The government has also created a dedicated war room to monitor air pollution levels.

Irrespective of the GRAP measures and conditions, the Delhi government had imposed the odd-even scheme last year from November 4-15. This was announced by the government last year in mid-September, even before the pollution touched “severe+” levels as a pre-emptive action. However, this year, Environment Minister Gopal Rai said that the scheme will be the “last weapon”, only if everything else fails.

Meanwhile, both the Delhi Traffic Police and the enforcement wing of the Transport Department have begun action against vehicular pollution.

Delhi Joint CP (Traffic) Meenu Chaudhary said that to curb pollution levels the traffic police is working on three measures.

“First, prosecution is being carried out at hotspots and all over Delhi. The Delhi pollution control committee has identified 13 pollution hotspots in the city. We have deployed extra officers at these spots to ensure dedicated prosecution of vehicles flouting pollution control norms,” said Ms. Chaudhary.

Imposing fines

The officer added that besides strict regulations at pollution hotspots, they have intensified prosecution at other congested corridors. “We are fining vehicles for improper parking, transportation of buildings material or uncovered material, Pollution Under Control (PUC) certificate and old vehicles under the category of 10 and 15 years, across the city,” she said.

The second step is extra deployment at hotspots and congested corridor for better prosecution. They keep conducting encroachment removal drive at these locations to ensure smooth traffic flow.

“The third measure involves the officers formulating an action plan in coordination with civic agencies to minimise pollution at hotspots and busy corridors,” Ms. Chaudhary said.

Traffic policemen have also been instructed to follow social distancing guidelines during prosecution process.

EV policy

Among the highlights of the Delhi government’s battle against air pollution this year, is the recently announced Electric Vehicle policy under which incentives and benefits are extended to those buying electric vehicles, said Transport Secretary-cum-Commissioner Manisha Saxena

Additions to the city’s public bus fleet are expected over the coming months with both e-buses as well as low-floor vehicles to be added to Delhi’s State-run transportation infrastructure by the first quarter of 2021, which would yield long-term results towards the objective of mitigating air pollution, she added.

“As far as enforcement is concerned, we have been taking action against vehicles, both private and commercial, for visibly polluting, not having PUC certificates and overloading. A dedicated prosecution drive against such vehicles has been on since September and being carried out strictly,” Ms. Saxena said.

According to Transport Department data, as many as 3,72,409 vehicles were checked between January and October 22 this year. Of these, 10,733 were challaned for not having valid PUC certificates while 480 were issued fines for causing visible pollution. According to prosecution figures, as many as 1,397 vehicles were fined for pollution-related offences since the beginning of October.

Anti-smog guns

In neighbouring Gurugram, anti-smog guns at construction sites, a dedicated air monitoring cell, and night patrolling are some of the new initiatives taken by the Gurugram pollution control board to tackle the rising levels of pollution.

Speaking to The Hindu, Regional Officer, Haryana State Pollution Control Board, Gurugram (South), Shakti Singh claimed that 43 anti-smog guns were installed at several construction sites within his jurisdiction to control dust.

These machines, said Mr. Singh, could sprinkle water within a distance of 30 metre and help bring down the PM2.5 levels. Similarly, 22 similar guns were now positioned in Gurugram (North). Mr. Singh said there were 136 construction sites in Gurugram.

With the pollution levels fluctuating, the district administration has put into place the measures to deal with the severe category of pollution that includes ban on diesel generator sets, monitoring of open burning of the waste and mechanised sweeping of the roads.

Unlike previous years, an air monitoring cell has been set up at HSIIDC Office Complex in Manesar to redress any complaint related to GRAP violation with a toll free no. 1-800-180-1817.

The team at the cell also responds to complaints received on social media accounts of the department.

Besides, 45 devices are installed for monitoring of air emission in ‘red category’ industrial units and the real time data provided on the HSPCB and Central Pollution Control Board server for monitoring. Mr. Singh claimed that around 80% industrialists and builders had given undertakings to adhere to the GRAP.

Also, notice has been served to Farrukhnagar municipal corporation to ensure door-to-door collection of the solid municipal waste and curtail open burning of waste. However, as many as 22 residential societies, including two in the DLF area, depend, partially or wholly, on the diesel generator sets for electricity supply.

Besides, 40 commercial buildings also don’t have regular power connections from the grid. Dakshin Haryana Bijli Vitran Nigam, Chief Engineer, Vineeta Singh, said that though the power department was prepared to impart regular electricity connections to these areas, the deficiency in terms of infrastructure and incomplete formalities was on the part of the developers. The EPCA had asked the Haryana government to submit a detailed programme to ensure supply to these areas before it considers exemption for them.

(With inputs from Nikhil M Babu, Ashok Kumar, Saurabh Trivedi and Jatin Anand)

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2020 4:01:35 PM |

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