When the second round of the Delhi government’s odd-even scheme ended, many experts cautioned against making it permanent and suggested that the government should look beyond just road-rationing to curb air pollution. But it is important to acknowledge that cutting down on the number of vehicles does reduce exposure to toxic elements and prevents the pollution peaks from getting worse.
According to an IIT Kanpur study released in 2015 on sources of pollution in the national capital, vehicles contribute 20 per cent of particulate matter 2.5 (particles below 2.5 microns in diameter and capable of entering human lungs). The other big contributors include dust, domestic cooking and power plants.
However, the report says that vehicles are the most consistent source of pollution throughout the year while most others are variable.
Studies have shown that a few curbs on vehicles can make an effect. The Supreme Court mandated Environment Compensation Charge (ECC) on trucks and bypass of trucks not destined for Delhi has reduced the emission load from trucks by 30-35 per cent. An average of 6,300 trucks are being diverted away from the city, which has resulted in lower night time pollution levels in comparison to last year.
However, only putting restrictions on one source of pollution, in this case vehicles, cannot bring substantial results. Moreover, Delhi government’s two odd-even drives have focused on only one category of vehicles – cars.
Even the Delhi Pollution Control Committee’s (DPCC) report on the impact of the second round of the odd-even scheme says that the pollution levels spiked during the second half of the period due to rampant farm fires (open crop burning) in Punjab and Haryana. Experts say that this shows that the reduction achieved from odd-even scheme during this phase was not substantial enough, among other more dominating factors.
“Substantial results will not be seen until the government works on long-term strategies for reducing pollution from other sources as well,” says Vikrant Tongad, environmentalist with Social Action for Forests and Environment.
On farm fires, there is no sustainable plan for reducing crop burning in the neighbouring states and the advisories issued to them just remain on paper, say experts.
“The burning of crop residue should not be seen in isolation, we have to take a holistic picture,” says Umendra Dutt of Kheti Virasat mission in Punjab.
“Farmers are burning wheat stalks just in order to save a few hundred rupees and time. This burning of stubble is the natural outcome of the economic and agriculture model we are pursuing from last 50 years,” he adds.
According to the IIT Kanpur study, the biggest component of air pollution in the national capital is road dust, including that from construction sites. Of the total PM 10 and PM 2.5 concentration in the city, 56 and 38 per cent respectively is caused by road dust.
After several directions by the National Green Court, the DPCC swung into action and even announced a penalty of Rs 50,000 per day for repeated offenders. In the past six months, 67 big construction projects around the capital have been fined for violating dust control norms and a total fine of Rs 1.18 crore has been collected.
DPCC officials say the compliance rate has increased after its strict monitoring but new names being added in the defaulters’ list every month shows how difficult it is to rein in these big projects, including those of government agencies like Delhi Development Authority.
The report of the last inspection by DPCC says that even projects that have just started are not following the dust control norms, despite the heavy penalty.
In the most recent inspection, the DPCC fined several big names like British School in Chanakyapuri, proposed Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies in Rohini, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya College project in Dwarka, construction of district courts opposite Mata Sundari College, redevelopment of East Kidwai Nagar GPRA complex, multiplex-cum-commercial Development in Chanakyapuri, EWS housing for slum relocation in Bawana, low cost housing project in Tikri Kalan, Prefab LIG and EWS for DDA in Narela, National Small Industries Corp Ltd in Okhla and Pawan Hans Ltd in Gautam Budh Nagar of Uttar Pradesh.
The government had started vacuum cleaning of roads from April 1 to fight dust pollution. However, the Public Works Department (PWD) has procured only three machines for this.
“This number is completely inadequate for fighting dust pollution. We need to make sure we redesign streets. Delhi is at the edge of Thar Desert, it will also be a dusty city. If we do not take measures, it will be difficult to control dust pollution,” says Centre for Science and Environment director general Sunita Narain.
In the past few years, scientists studying the capital’s air are detecting fly ash. The IIT Kanpur study found that fly ash was one of the major contributors to PM 10 and PM 2.5 in summers. Even a CSE recently found that huge amount of fly ash generated by National Thermal Power Corporation’s Badarpur Power Plant is being dumped over a sprawling area next to the plant.
“We were earlier concerned about the emissions being released from the chimneys but now this site has been discovered,” Sunita Narain had said earlier.
The IIT report had pointed out that unless sources contributing to fly ash are controlled, one cannot expect significant improvement in air quality. “It appears that these sources are more fugitive in nature than the regular point sources,” it said.
The Delhi government had recently declared that the Badarpur and the Rajghat power plants will be shut down as part of a slew of air pollution control measures. However, the government is yet to decide on a closure date with the NTPC urging it not to shut it down.
Another culprit identified by the IIT study is coal-fired tandoors in restaurants. According to the report, there are approximately 9,000 hotels or restaurants in Delhi which use coal, mostly in tandoors. They too contribute to making the air fouler.