A Capital under pollution lockdown
Air pollution has once again brought the Capital to a grinding halt. It’s high time authorities look for long-term policy measures and implement them faithfully
The ongoing onslaught of air pollution has crossed all safety limits and has virtually put the citizens, especially children and the elderly of the Capital city under house arrest. This state of affairs was inevitable given the Diwali festival followed by crop stubble burning in States of Haryana and Punjab. These developments in the face of an approaching winter season and higher moisture content in the air have culminated and given rise to the worst air quality ever seen in recent times. Authorities have responded with counter measures such as slashing of metro fares during peak hours, coupled with increasing the frequency of metro trains. Additionally, parking rates have been quadrupled ostensibly to discourage people from taking out their vehicles and, hence, curb pollution. However, the measures taken to stem the impact of air pollution seem too little and have been executed too late.
Crop stubble burning has been a major contributory factor in the air pollution fiasco currently being faced by Delhites, yet the National Green Tribunal or the authorities have still been unable to dissuade the farmers from proceeding ahead and resorting to the age-old practice of burning crop stubble. The panicky initiatives undertaken currently by the authorities are only symptomatic treatment of the much larger problem that is unfortunately not getting addressed. According to the Central Pollution Control Board, a level of 100 as Air Quality Index (AQI) is deemed satisfactory, but Delhi's AQI already has an average range of 300 to 400. However, the current conditions have caused a severe spike in pollution levels with the AQI crossing 450 mark in several parts of Delhi.
The lack of a concentrated strategy to identify and shut down the sources of air pollution has meant that Delhi, and increasingly other cities in India, continue to go through the roller coaster ride of better days and worse days — pollution wise. Delhi's deteriorating air quality is already taking a toll and if left like this, pollution levels can lead to disastrous consequences for its population. A Greenpeace India report states that the National Capital Territory of Delhi already witnesses approximately 1.2 million deaths every year that can be attributed to air pollution. To make matters worse, along with the rising levels of particulate matter and noxious gases, the compliance with air pollution control measures by private entities is also becoming more and more difficult to supervise.
Authorities must aim to subdue pollution arising from large sources such as construction sites in and around the Capital. Emission load in the form of PM 2.5 levels from building sites is estimated to be 1,017 kg per day, whereas roads and flyover construction contributes to nearly 274 kg per day. Merely imposing restrictions on construction activities is just not sufficient as the compliance across the NCR is dismal given the lack of manpower and resolve with the civic bodies to implement the restrictions. Given these challenges, the Government must rope in the resident welfare associations through the Bhagidari scheme whereby the residents of every locality are sensitized to pollution consequences and sources and suitably empowered to control pollution in their specific municipal areas.
The Supreme Court-appointed Environmental Pollution Contra Authority (EPCA) is proceeding as per the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) in order to manage the current pollution crises. But the need of the hour is to see that the plans translate into action on the ground. Unless this is ensured, next year's winter season will be no different from this year. For a better measure, and better results in curbing pollution, the EPCA could integrate public participation in order to help Delhi breath easy. The involvement of citizens could be to generate innovative ideas to control air pollution. For instance, globally carbon from polluted air is now being harvested to make tangible products such as building material and ink. These path-breaking ideas are attracting attention of innovation and research centers of various ivy league universities across the world. Once these R&D labs are able to attach suitable technologies to productize the material present in the polluted air the recycling of air pollution could begin in volume and scale.
Countries are also quickly developing and installing mammoth air purifiers to take on the polluted air in their cities. The Smog Free Tower being built by Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde in China is being described as “the world's largest smog vacuum cleaner”. The tower with an appearance of an air ioniser is nearly seven meters high, and is capable of to cleaning 30,000 cubic meters of air per hour, with power consumption as low as 1,700 watts. India has a robust science and technology base and utilising this, the Government can explore installation of mass scale air purifiers on building tops and other public places so that a considerable dent can be made in the fight against air pollution.
(The writer is an environmental journalist)
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