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No lessons learnt, Delhi again facing haze and hazardous Air pollution

While the parliamentarians in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) were engaged in allegations and counter allegations on Thursday, the pollution was rising outside which soon took the form of a haze.

No lessons learnt, Delhi again facing haze and hazardous Air pollution
Real Time AQI in Delhi at 12 am on Friday. Image Credit: (aqicn.org)

The leadership and agencies responsible for controlling air pollution in Delhi seem to be more interested in passing the buck than implementing measures to ensure breathable clean air for the citizens. Despite having faced 'health emergency' due to hazardous air pollution in the first week of this month, the air pollution in the city reached to hazardous level again on Thursday. Surprisingly, the agencies were mute spectators when they saw this haze coming.

After a short decline in crop residue burning due to action by enforcement agencies in Punjab, the satellite images revealed increased incidents of crop residue burning in the fields by farmers in the initial days of this week. However, once again the coordination between agencies was missing and hardly any precautionary action was taken to prevent the haze. Though the crop residue burning, low temperature, slow wind velocity are major contributors for current smog in the city, the air pollution could have been minimized by enforcing Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP). The pictures of crop residue burning were also shared on social media. Responding to such a tweet, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said, 'Very Sad' on November, 19. However, the coordination between the agencies of Delhi, Central Government and neighboring states could not be seen on the ground.

Picture: Satellite map showing stubble burnning at 7 pm on November 19 (@ArvindKejriwal)

While the parliamentarians in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) were engaged in a heated debate and labelling allegations and counter-allegations on one another, the pollution in the city was rising. By the afternoon, it took the form of a haze. In the debate, members could not reach on consensus regarding the 'source of pollution' which had pushed Delhi gasping leading to emergency in the first week of this month, another round of hazardous level of pollution was waiting them outside. In the house the BJP member Vijay Goel blamed the AAP government for doing nothing to control pollution in the city. The counter allegation came from AAP's Sanjay Singh who defended Delhi government by enumerating its initiatives. Congress member Kumari Shelja argued that only the farmers should not be blamed for pollution in Delhi.

Outside the Parliament, people were experiencing discomfort, itching and breathing problems since afternoon. In the night the Air Quality Index (AQI) in some areas such as Dwarka and Anand Vihar reached about 800 points. The AQI at most of the places in the city was severe to hazardous.

There is no dearth of policy but will power. Delhi already has a robust implementation plan - Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) - to combat rising air pollution which was prepared after wide consultations with domain experts from environment, transport, energy and policing etc. It was notified through a Gazette Notification in 2017. The plan provides a blueprint for coordination between 13 different agencies in Delhi and its neighboring states – Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. In the plan the severity of air pollution has been divided into four grades – moderate to poor, very poor, sever and severe plus or emergency. A set of activities have been prescribed for each level of air pollution.

Though there's no denying the fact that the crop residue burning by the farmers adds to the air pollution of Delhi during winter season, Delhi's own pollution also makes it moderate to severe almost throughout the year. According to a data analysis releases recently, Delhiites had breathable clean air only for two days since 2017. These two days were 31 July, 2017 and 18 August, 2019. There were rain and high wind velocity on both the days. As per the scientific standards, the air is considered 'breathable' when the AQI is below 50. Thus the pollution load of Delhi is itself causing health problems to the citizens and they are devoid of right to breathe clean air.

In fact, Delhi needs a holistic multi-pronged short term and long term strategy to tackle the problem of air pollution. But, before going for any plan or formula the agencies in Delhi will have to accept the reality that the city also has its own pollution load and not all the pollution coming from outside. It's simply because due to its own pollution load Delhi's AQI level is often 300-400 points, the outside pollution from crop residue bringing pushes it to double.

There is also an urgent need to reach out the farmers with a sustainable solution to control crop residue burning in the fields. The city government should also maintain round the clock power supply in winters so that there is no need of diesel generators. Besides, public transport and last mile connectivity should also be strengthened to decrease the number of vehicles on the roads. The green technologies will be of great help in controlling industrial and vehicular pollution.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are the personal views of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Devdiscourse and Devdiscourse does not claim any responsibility for the same.)

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