‘Little Too Late’: Delhi Govt’s Anti-Pollution Measures Boon or Bane? Environmentalists Weigh In

A drastic dip in Delhi’s air quality index (AQI) on Tuesday and Wednesday prompted the state government to jump into action with its anti-pollution measures. After imposing a ban on the plying of four-wheeled diesel light motor vehicles and the entry of trucks in the capital city and adjoining NCR, Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai on Friday urged city residents to work from home (WFH) or opt for carpooling while stating that vehicular emissions account for 51% of the air pollution generated locally.

However, even as the Delhi government sprung up in action to control the pollution levels, the measures taken by the authorities under Stage IV of the Graded Response Action Plan were labeled as ‘Ineffective’ by many environmentalists who also opined that it might be a ‘little too late’ to impose these ban.

‘Action Plan is Problematic’

In view of the worsening air quality in Delhi-NCR, the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) on Thursday decided to implement measures under Stage IV of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), a set of anti-pollution measures followed in the national capital and its vicinity.

The CAQM banned the plying of four-wheeled diesel light motor vehicles in Delhi and adjoining NCR districts and the entry of trucks into the national capital as part of the final stage of GRAP while exempting BS-VI vehicles and those used for essential and emergency services.

Commenting on the measure, Bharati Chaturvedi, founder, and director of Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, claimed the entire GRAP initiative was problematic and that the measures should have been in place throughout the year.

“The action plan is problematic. It worked well as a concept when we had no access to data. But these measures should be in place throughout the year in order to bring down AQI levels to 100 or below,” Chaturvedi told PTI.

Why Didn’t the Government Rework Their Vacation Schedules?

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Friday said primary schools would be closed from Saturday in a bid to protect children from the effects of the deteriorating air quality while the CAQM had on Saturday directed authorities to impose a ban on construction and demolition activities in Delhi-NCR, barring essential projects, under the third stage of GRAP.

Voicing her concerns on the above measures, Chaturvedi Chaturvedi further said, “GRAP was implemented earlier too, and shutting down schools under the action plan is nothing new. This happens every year, so why didn’t the Kejriwal government re-work their vacation schedules?”

Not Enough Boots on the Grounds

Speaking about the implementation of the final stage of GRAP, environmentalist Bhavreen Kandhari said it was a little too late to implement such measures as there were not enough boots on the ground.

“Good to know that diesel vehicles have been put under restrictions but isn’t it a little too late? There are around 19 lakh vehicles in the national capital that do not have a valid PUCC (Pollution Under Control Certificates) but there is no technology to know whether such vehicles are plying on the roads or a system to impound them,” Kandhari told PTI.

“Do we have enough force/personnel to implement these measures? For the existing ones, do they have the equipment and a strategy to impound these vehicles? Has the commission considered taking up additional companies of CAPF (Central Armed Police Forces) on all border checkpoints to assist the Transport department to stop polluting vehicles from entering? “GRAP can go from 1 to a million stage but has no meaning if the laws aren’t enforced,” she said.

Joining the bandwagon was also, Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air analyst Sunil Dahiya who said that the CAQM should also pull up inefficient administrations through penal actions if they failed to control pollution from sources within their areas of control.

“It is time the CAQM starts using its powers to shut down polluting industries and activities. The commission should also pull up the inefficient administration through penal actions if they fail to control pollution.

“We have enough resources and systems in place to identify polluters and those should be used for strict governance,” Dahiya said.

The worst of the Season May be Ahead of Us

According to the analysis by National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) Tracker, average PM 2.5 levels in October this year were higher as compared to 2021 in the capital cities of Delhi, Chandigarh, Lucknow, and Patna.

Deliberating on the impact of vehicular Ravindra Khaiwal, professor of Environment at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), said that it is important to prioritize actions that can help curb pollution.

“We need to plan not only for crop residue burning but also other sources for the rest of the year so we can effectively manage pollution during this time when the atmospheric reactivity is in play. It is extremely important to prioritize this since air pollution is a major risk to various health issues including respiratory and cardiovascular ailments,” Khaiwal said.

Work from home bears a positive impact?

Environment Minister Gopal Rai ordered 50 percent of the staff of the Delhi government to work from home and said an advisory would be issued to private offices to follow suit. This decision was taken basis of the belief that WFH can result in better AQI levels and reduce emissions due to less number of vehicles on the road.

While several studies have seconded the point many experts still stay divided on its impact on the environment.

While carbon dioxide emissions declined 8.8% in 2020 compared to the first six months of 2019 owing to a reduction in daily commute as a result of working from home, when it comes to the overall impact of WFH on the environment, experts remain divided. According to a Harvard Business Review report, “WFH is not a clear win for the environment.” “The net sustainability impact depends on several employee behaviours, from travel to energy use, to digital device and waste management,” it stated.

(With inputs from Agencies)

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