As Delhi inches towards winter, environmental experts have raised an alarm. Apparently, in the coming weeks the air quality of the capital is set to worsen due to the cold weather and rising levels of air pollution. This raises the obvious question, what measures has the Delhi government taken since last year to better the quality of air in the capital?
It seems the most concrete step that the Delhi government has taken is to write to central government and the state governments of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan to “curb burning of agricultural residue to control air pollution in Delhi”, according to Delhi’s environment minister, Imran Hussain. Too little, too late?
An analysis of air quality by IIT Kanpur in 2015 had found a number of sources responsible for the alarming air quality in the capital. As per the study, besides vehicular pollution, construction works, industries, road dust, coal-based tandoors and concrete batching are the major components of the air pollution in Delhi.
The study also underlined the impact of biomass burning or farm fires in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana during October-November on the capital’s air quality.
Even though Delhi government has made the notice of the finding, officials said the “state currently doesn’t have a mechanism to deal with the smoke coming from other states except seeking cooperation of the neighbouring state authorities.”
According to World Health Organization, Delhi is the 11th most polluted city in the world.
Too much focus on vehicular emission
“This year it won’t be any different than previous winters,” rues Vikrant Tongad, a environmental expert in Delhi. “Though the Aam Aadmi Party government showed a political approach to the problem, it was nothing than a political stunt.”
According to Tongad, the state government has failed to implement the set of measures proposed by it last year to better the quality of the air in the capital. Also the focusing just on vehicular emission made matters worse.
“Not only at the state level but also at central level, there needs to be a political will. Pollution from traffic is not the only pollutant, there are other components as well.This is why the Odd-Even scheme was not that big a success as Kejriwal government thought it would be,” Tongad, who heads SAFE, an NGO working on environment and society, said.
Seconding his views, Greenpeace campaigner Sunil Dahiya argues the government needs a big comprehensive plan to tackle the problem of air pollution in the capital. He also stresses the time to make Delhi pollution free may take years.
“Odd-Even was not enough. It was just a small part of that plan. While the government also announced measures other than Odd-Even to bring down the level of toxic air in the environment, very little is known of their implementation,” Dahiya said.
What about other measures?
“Who’s monitoring the construction sites? Are there any barricades to prevent dust? Are there sprinklers to settle the dust? What happened to the government’s plan of vacuum cleaning of roads?” activist Tongad asks.
Among a slew of measures aimed at curbing air pollution in the city, last year Delhi government announced that it will shut down power plants, restrict traffic and clean 1,260 kilometers of PWD roads by vacuum to prevent flow of dust in the air. On ground, the situation is different.
“The department has been unable to find an eligible entity to undertake the process. We will be announcing fresh tenders soon,” an official from Delhi government’s PWD department said when asked about the status of vacuum cleaning of roads.
Similarly, the Delhi government’s plan to shut down power plants has only materialized partially.
“We shut down the coal-based Rajghat Power Station in December 2015. The government couldn’t shut down the Badarpur Thermal Power plant as it’s under the jurisdiction of NTPC,” S K Jain, Secretary Power department told ScoopWhoop News.
Another contributing factor to the bad air quality are the burning landfills which are fed daily with thousands of tonnes of garbage collected across Delhi. Out of four dumping sites in Delhi, three have already reached their capacity.
In North Delhi’s Bhalswa area, the mountain-like garbage dump has been burning since last week, emanating plumes of smoke, 24×7.
“The fire is caused naturally due to pressure produced by the methane gas. Residents living around the area are often sick and suffer from various respiratory ailments. There are also a number of skin allergy patients,” Ajeet Singh Yadav, Councillor Bhalswa, North Delhi Municipal Corporation said.
According to Yadav, he has brought the issue of burning to the notice of NDMC but there has been no concrete action.
“I have asked them to stop dumping garbage here. NDMC says they need an alternative site to dump the garbage. Until they are not going to find that, the fire will continue,” he said.
Officials of Delhi Pollution Control Committee couldn’t be reached for the comment.