Could Japanese Technology Be The Answer To Delhi's Pollution Woes? SC Awaits Answer
A sore Children's Day was in store for young students in the state capital and adjoining areas as the authorities mandated that all schools be shut until the end of the week. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court (SC) has directed the centre to study the feasibility of a Japanese technology that uses hydrogen to fight pollution. If successful, this could be a permanent solution to check air pollution in the region. The apex court will hear the matter on December 3, 2019. The idea was brought to the notice of the court by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
Delhi's Air Quality May Dip To Emergency Level By November 14, 2019
It looks like there are worse days ahead for Delhi and its adjoining areas. The air quality that was recorded as 'severe' may touch the emergency level, the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) has warned. With the minimum temperature dipping to 11.7 degrees celsius, the air has become colder and denser, making it hold more pollutants, explains Kuldeep Srivastava, head of the India Meteorological Department's regional weather forecasting centre.
The levels of PM 2.5 and PM10 are now way above the safe limits. Wazirpur, Bawana, Rohini, Mundka and Anand Vihar are the most polluted neighbourhoods in the state capital. In the NCR, Faridabad, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad, Greater Noida and Noida are also facing the same plight.
Over 99,000 Challans Levied In Delhi For Violating Anti-Air Pollution Laws
As the national capital battles to breath, 99,202 challans have been so far been issued in Delhi over violation of anti-air pollution laws. Penalties amounting to about Rs 14 crore have also been imposed. The list of offences include dumping of construction and demolition waste, burning and dumping of garbage, violating the odd-even traffic rule, etc.
Since October 16 this year, 29,044 metric tonnes of construction and demolition waste have been lifted. The DPCC has penalised various government agencies such as the PWD, CPWD, NBCC, and DDA for violation and Rs 57 lakhs worth of penalty has been collected over the last 15 days.
Odd-Even Rule For Vehicles Kicks Off As Delhi Battles Severe Pollution
Despite preventive measures, Delhi's air quality has worsened crossing even the "severe" mark on the Air Quality Index (AQI). While schools remain shut, the odd-even scheme has returned once again. Ensuring strict implementation, 600 teams of the Delhi Traffic Police have been deployed and violation of the rule will call for heavy penalties to the tune of Rs 4,000 until 8 pm of November 15, 2019. To reiterate the concept of odd-even, vehicles with registration numbers ending in even numbers, that is 0, 2, 4, 6, 8, will be allowed only on November 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 and 14th while those ending in 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 will be allowed only on November 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13 and 15th.
Two-wheelers, electric vehicles, women-only vehicles with children up to 12 years of age and the disabled accompanying them will also be exempted. The rule will apply to Delhi Chief Minister and his cabinet but the President, Prime Minister, emergency and enforcement vehicles are exempted.
Ban on construction in Delhi NCR
The Supreme Court (SC)-appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) had declared a public health emergency in the national capital and the adjoining areas. The ban on construction had been extended, to November 5, 2019. However, a director and three engineers were among 38 people arrested on Saturday from the construction sites of five real estate groups in Noida and Greater Noida for violation of the ban imposed by the EPCA. "Similar action would be continued in future also and EPCA guidelines complied with," Gautam Buddh Nagar District Magistrate B N Singh said to the media.
While builders are troubled about this annual practice of imposing a ban, they are asking for a better, permanent solution. "Such disruptions are unfortunately not added to the committed possession dates for the homebuyers. Even if work is officially stopped for just 10 days, it may take another two weeks to fully remobilise the site. There are at least 7-8 such episodes in the construction cycle of a typical project in NCR. Hope this is seen as a factor beyond the control of builders," Pankaj Bajaj, president of NCR unit of CREDAI said.
What went wrong?
Bursting of firecrackers during the festive season of Diwali, is to blame, says a report by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). The first 'severe' air pollution mapped was during the time crackers were burst in the city, a real-time study undertaken by the CSE revealed. A ten-fold jump in PM 2.5 concentration between 5 pm and 1 am was recorded, during Diwali 2019. However, the air was comparatively cleaner, when compared to the same time during the last year.
The SC had allowed only a two-hour window between 8-10 pm for those intending to burst crackers. Unfortunately, it did not deter revellers who flouted the rule. In various areas, illegal crackers were also being sold. Amit Kadam, resident of Delhi's Trilokpuri says, "I intended to buy green crackers but couldn't find them. Some people in the neighbourhood bought illegal crackers that was stocked up since last year. These were sold at higher prices too."
Experts also called for action, to ensure that Delhi does not have to face long spells of smog and related problems. Another threat comes from farm fires in Punjab and Haryana, which have increased. The Delhi government has brought to notice that stubble burning too shall worsen. Latest NASA satellite imagery showed a spurt in the crop residue burning in the two states.
"The effective stubble fire counts in Haryana and Punjab have increased from 1,654 to 2,577 in the past 24 hours, which is a matter of extreme concern for the residents of Delhi. As per the SAFAR model, the stubble share may touch this year's peak value now," a government notice said, on October 29, 2019. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal appealed to Punjab and Haryana to take concrete steps against stubble burning to prevent the national capital from becoming a 'gas chamber'. The period between October 15 and November 15 is considered most critical. One of the major reasons that crop residue burning continues despite a ban, is because of a lack of financial incentives to farmers. A conclusive 35 per cent of pollution this year during the festive season can be mapped to stubble burning alone.
EPCA Ban On Construction At Night Extended Till November 5
As preventive steps, the EPCA had banned construction between 6 pm and 6 am from October 26 until the 30th of the month. Subsequently, it extended the ban to November 2, till 10 am. Now, keeping in view the worsening air quality, the ban on construction has been extended till November 5, 2019 and no construction can take place even in daytime. During this period, coal-based industries in Faridabad, Gurugram, Ghaziabad, Noida, Greater Noida, Sonepat and Bahadurgarh will also be closed down. The above-mentioned steps were recommendations from a 10-member task force led by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
High-traffic corridors will also be scrutinised by the Delhi Traffic Police. The department has been asked to deploy additional manpower by the EPCA. Forty-six teams of the apex anti-pollution body have been conducting inspections in Delhi-NCR.
In Delhi-NCR, 1,452 cases that led to air pollution were reported between October 7 to 27, according to data from Central Pollution Control Board. Of the total 1,452 violations, 446 related to pollution due to construction and demolition and 355 dumping of waste.
Delhi Must Cut Air Pollution By 65% To Become Clean, Say Experts
If Delhi aims to become clean, it must cut air pollution by 65 per cent, say experts. While authorities claim that pollution levels have reduced by 25 per cent in the past 10 years here, the city still has a long way to go. While shutting down of coal power plants, switching to Bharat Stage-IV fuel and diversion of inter-city trucks, have worked well for Delhi, the number of vehicles here increased by 40 per cent while industries grew by an estimated 42 per cent in a decade.
"We need big clean energy and technology transition in the industrial and vehicular sectors," says Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director (research and advocacy) at the Centre for Science and Environment.
Meanwhile, Delhi BJP president Manoj Tiwari has said that Haryana has stopped stubble burning, a move that would lower pollution levels in Delhi.
Delhi CM Calls For Strong Action To Stop Stubble Burning
In order to curb air pollution in the city as the winter sets in, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has written to the centre and his counterparts in Punjab and Haryana, to take stringent action against stubble burning. Stubble burning by the farmers of the two neighbouring states, is a major contributor to pollution in the national capital, especially during October and November.
At home, Kejriwal is consulting community Diwali event organisers to encourage people to celebrate the festival with laser shows, avoiding crackers. Pollution levels shoot up dramatically after the four-day event every year, trends show.
With collective efforts, PM 2.5 levels in the air have dipped by 25 per cent over the last three years, but Delhi is still counted among the top polluted cities of the world.
City may experiment with staggered office timings
Delhi government is, among many other measures, planning to make a change in office timings of its staff. While CM Kejriwal has already discussed such a plan with Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal, its modalities have yet to be worked out.
Typically, offices start operations between 9 am and 10 am, which leads to peak hour traffic on the city roads. An alteration in timings could help reduce traffic congestion apart from keeping a check on pollution.
While the government plans to work out suitable timings for employees that wouldn’t compromise on productivity or the eight-hour work schedule, work-from-home options are also on the table. Earlier this month, plans were also being worked out to facilitate the return of odd-even policy for vehicles.
Staggering office timings may be new to Delhi, but some other cities have experimented with it already. For example, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation did away with long lunch-breaks to allow their junior staff to leave early at 4.30 pm so that they could avoid the rush. Timing tweaks are also being considered in Cyberabad. In Noida, staggered school timings have been adopted in the past to allow easy commute and less pollution.
Delhi To See Return Of The Odd-Even Policy Starting November 4
Delhi will resort to the odd-even policy for vehicles between from November 4 to the 15th. Experts see this as an emergency measure much needed to control pollution in the city during the onset of winters. Environmental experts Dr Ken Lee, executive director of EPIC (Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago) India, and O P Agarwal, CEO, WRI (World Resources Institute) India, said that Delhi's odd-even policy has had a positive impact on the pollution levels. They also met with Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal to discuss an action plan.
Given that Delhi has been infamous for its almost-fatal air pollution over the years, Delhi Chief Minister had sought suggestions from Delhiites for steps that will help curb pollution, especially during winters when crop burning in the adjacent states of Punjab and Haryana is rampant.
Stating that there was a 25 per cent reduction in the overall pollution level in Delhi over the last three years, further action has been planned in the form of 4,000 eco-friendly buses that will ply on Delhi roads lifting some pressure off people who have to resort to private vehicles in the absence of dedicated routes.
Indoor Air Quality As Toxic As Outdoor Air: Study
Staying indoors to avoid air pollution in Delhi may not serve the purpose. A new study has revealed that air inside homes in the national capital has become unsafe with high levels of pollutants. According to a study done by BreatheEasy Consultants, houses in the city have highly polluted air infested with large concentrations of PM2.5, carbon dioxide and harmful gases. The study claims that it assessed air quality inside various types of homes with respect to three air-borne pollutants — particulate matter 2.5, carbon dioxide (CO2) and total volatile organic compounds (TVOCs) — between April 2018 and March 2019.
The study also claimed that even where air purifiers were used, the PM2.5 levels were above the safety limit and CO2 and TVOC levels were many times higher than the permissible limits.
State of air pollution in the world
State of Global Air 2019, a report by US-based Health Effects Institute, revealed that owing to indoor and outdoor pollution, about five million people lost their lives. Pollution was one of the major causes of diabetes, heart attack, lung cancer and chronic lung disease. What is more alarming is the fact that according to the study, a South Asian child is at the risk of lower life expectancy, lower by 2.6 years. Not just South Asia, life expectancy is down by 20 months worldwide.
The institute has pointed out that sustainable schemes and measures can have a positive effect. The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, Household LPG programme, Bharat Stage VI vehicle standard and measures undertaken under the National Clean Air Programme can significantly lower such risks.
So far, various researches have indicated that air pollution has been fatal with the quantum of risks increasing year after year. Last year, a report by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said that one in eight deaths in India was due to pollution, adding more harm and disease than tobacco. The report, which was published in the Lancet Planetary Health journal, also said that citizens faced the highest exposure to ultra-fine PM2.5 pollutants in national capital Delhi, followed by Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.
The latest research by Lancet estimates that one in 10 asthma cases in children can be mapped to air/vehicular pollution because of nitrogen dioxide which is the major risk factor. In 2015, 3.5 lakh Indian children were affected.
The annual population-weighted mean exposure to ambient PM2.5 in India was 89.9 micrograms per square cubic metre (µg/m3) in 2017, one of the highest in the world. National capital Delhi recorded the highest PM 2.5 exposure level, followed by Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and West Bengal.
PM2.5 is the short form of particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns are. These fine particles can enter deep into the lungs and can cause heart attacks, strokes, respiratory diseases and cancer. PM2.5 pollution comes from power plants, cars and trucks, fires, agriculture and industrial emissions. The World Health Organization (WHO) permission limit is 10 µg/m3.
This is the agency’s first report that estimates the impact of air pollution on deaths, health loss and life expectancy reduction in each state in India.
While stating that around 12.4 lakh people died in India in 2017 due to air pollution, the study said that the average life expectancy would have been 1.7 years higher if the pollution levels were less than the minimal average. Of this, 6.7 lakh deaths were caused due to outdoor air pollution while 4.8 lakh deaths were due to household air pollution. The study also pointed out that more than half of the 12.4 people who died due to air pollution were aged less than 70 years.
"The average life expectancy in India would have been 1.7 years higher if the air pollution levels were less than the minimal level causing health loss, with the highest increases in the northern states of Rajasthan (2.5 years), Uttar Pradesh (2.2 years), and Haryana (2.1 years)," it said.
The report further said 77 per cent of India's population was exposed to outdoor air pollution that is above the levels set by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
While stating that northern states were at greater risk of air pollution, the study pointed out that it killed the highest number of people in Uttar Pradesh (260,028), Maharashtra (108,038) and Bihar (96,967) in 2017. The study cited coal burning, industrial emissions, construction activity, brick kilns, transport vehicles, road dust, residential and commercial biomass burning, waste burning, agricultural stubble burning and diesel generators as the prime contributors to India’s air pollution.