After three months of respite, Delhi has started registering ‘poor’ air days again. According to Central Pollution Control Board’s daily air pollution index, air quality began degrading from the `moderate’ range from September 27.
The last `poor’ days were in June, after which the air quality remained mostly `moderate’ or `satisfactory’.
Air quality this summer and monsoon was better than in 2016, according to CPCB’s data. But if the city fails to prevent air pollution spikes again in the next three months, these gains will be lost.
The recent fall in quality could have resulted from traffic congestion due to Dussehra, experts said, but it is also the time of the year when the levels of particulate matter in the city air start peaking. Particulate matter levels start peaking around this time because of a combination of factors, including burning of agricultural residue in Punjab and Haryana, use of firecrackers for Diwali and a meteorological condition called winter inversion, when a layer of warm air traps cold air and acts like a lid to keep polluting particles close to the ground Starting October 15, Delhi will implement the graded response action plan (GRAP) under which measures will be taken to control emissions from all sources.
According to members of the Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA), measures to tackle `very poor’ category days will be enforced throughout the cold months from October 15 to March 15.These include a ban on waste burning and construction dust, cracking down on visibly polluting vehicles and increasing public parking fee up to four times. The Badarpur thermal power plant will also cease work from October 15.
A taskforce of CPCB, Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) scientists will decide whether more stringent interventions like stopping all construction activity, stopping trucks from entering the city, shutting down schools should be considered when air pollution levels reach the upper levels.
These measures, meant to check pollution at various intensities, were not in place last winter. Prodded by the Supreme Court, the Union ministry of environment, forests and climate change notified GRAP this January . CPCB has formed 40 teams to inspect and monitor the implementation of GRAP.
Keshav Chandra, chairperson, DPCC, told TOI, “We will notify all agencies, including the revenue department, to monitor waste burning and flouting of construction dust norms and alert us on violations.”
This year will likely see better data reporting because DPCC will have deployed 20 more real time air quality monitoring stations by October end. CPCB, DPCC and the Indian Meteorological Department will release a single AQI for Delhi and NCR every day to facilitate decisions on GRAP. TOI will monitor the air quality every week to assess the effectiveness of these interventions.
“Since the deadly Diwali smog last year, air pollution control has come under stricter scrutiny, “pointed out Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment.
“With favourable weather and a wider net of actions, this year’s pollution levels, though high, are comparatively better than last year’s. With sustained action, we can prevent smog incidents this winter and bend the pollution curve eventually. ”
Meanwhile, some decisions on systemic changes are awaiting the apex court’s nod.In October, the Supreme Court is likely to give its verdict on a comprehensive action plan that will suggest long-, mediumand shortterm policies to ensure the capital meets national air quality standards.
The court may give pertinent directions on emissions from diesel vehicles and reforms in pollution-under-control norms for vehicles. CPCB will also probably establish permissible standards for oxides of sulphur and nitrogen in dirty industrial fuels such as pet coke and furnace oil that are burnt in Delhi-NCR.