The smog is back in Delhi – earlier than usual and denser this time. The Capital has been engulfed by a thick sheet of smog since early November reducing visibility and increasing cases of asthma attacks and other respiratory ailments among people.
The Delhi government has blamed paddy straw burning in neighbouring states and the movement of polluting inter-state vehicles for deteriorating air quality in Delhi; but environmentalists point to a much bigger problem.
They say that 10 years after the government mandated all light commercial vehicles to convert to CNG, the gains made from that landmark reform are frittering away. Delhi now, needs to usher in the second generation of reforms to combat air pollution.
The Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA), set up by the Supreme Court in 1998 to deal with rising pollution in Delhi, recognises this problem. Its chairman Dr Bhure Lal says, “After the government brought about the CNG conversion programme and introduced better technology buses on the roads in 2000, there was a significant improvement in air quality in Delhi. It continued till about 2003-2004, after which we are again seeing pollution levels going up.”
“The reason behind this is the phenomenal rise of vehicles in the Capital. At the close of the century, we had 28 lakhs vehicles on roads here.
“Now, it is 70 lakhs and 60 per cent of these are diesel run. People prefer diesel over petrol because of the high price difference between the two, but the cost is borne by the environment as diesel is much more polluting than petrol.”
Executive director-research and advocacy at Centre for Science and Environment, Anumita Roychowdhury adds, “Over the years, the multiplication of factories in and around Delhi, those in Sahibabad, Faridabad etc. have also added to pollution in Delhi. Illegal burning of garbage and agricultural waste has also contributed generously. Delhi is landlocked and significantly above sea level which results in smog collecting over this area particularly.”
“There are, however, some steps which the Delhi government must take now to bring about a second generation of air quality control reforms. In the first phase, only commercial vehicles were converted to CNG. Now, the same should be prescribed for personal vehicles as well. Raise the emission standard of vehicles,
quality of fuel, better the inspection system to detect old commercial vehicles and raise checking points at borders to curb entry of polluting motor vehicles.”
“Most importantly, the government should control the use of cars/personal vehicles with a combination of taxation and parking policies which act as a disincentive in using cars. The public transportation system must also be strengthened so that people are not inclined towards personal vehicles at all. This is the only way to ensure that gains from the CNG conversion a decade back are not lost completely, and air quality in Delhi does not go down any further.”