After “severe” air pollution was observed for four days in Delhi, the air quality in the national capital marginally improved on Wednesday, but was still in the “very poor” category, authorities said.
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data showed Delhi’s overall air quality index (AQI) at a “very poor” level of 378, while the Centre-run System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting (SAFAR) showed an AQI of 364, which again falls in the “very poor” category.
According to CPCB data, eight areas recorded “severe” pollution, whereas 26 areas witnessed “very poor” air quality. In NCR, Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Gurgaon, Greater Noida, and Noida recorded “very poor” air quality.
The overall PM2.5 level, which is fine particulate matter in the air with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers, was recorded at 220, and the PM10 level was recorded at 341, the CPCB said.
Delhi recorded its second highest pollution level of the year on Sunday with an AQI of 450. The air quality remained “severe” on Monday and Tuesday before moving to the “very poor” category on Wednesday morning.
Construction activity shut temporarily
Due to severe pollution, industrial activities in pollution hotspots of Wazirpur, Mundka, Narela, Bawana, Sahibabad, and Faridabad remained shut till Wednesday. Construction work across Delhi-NCR was also suspended temporarily.
In a letter to Delhi Chief Secretary Vijay Kumar Dev, EPCA (Environment Pollution Control Authority) chairperson Bhure Lal directed him to ban all construction activities in the national capital, Faridabad, Gurugram, Ghaziabad, and Noida till Wednesday.
The ban, however, had a mixed effect in Ghaziabad, Noida, and Greater Noida where builders were seen flouting the orders openly.
Additionally, the dumpers used to carry construction material and construction waste were not covered at many instances. This led to spreading of dust in the air while commuting on roads. Also, the construction materials, which the EPCA had ordered to keep covered, were found uncovered at many stretches at Greater Noida.
When questioned about the violations, the administration maintained that they have been repeatedly issuing challans to the builders and that more such challans will be issued in case of violation.
“In the last two months, we have issued challans worth more than Rs 5 lakh for such violations to the builders. No one will be spared,” a spokesperson of local administration told India Today.
CM Kejriwal urges people to use public transport
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s government has planned to introduce a fleet of 1,000 e-buses in Delhi, and the Chief Minister also said greater usage of public transport facilities will be a “major step” towards curbing air pollution.
Kejriwal was speaking at a stakeholders’ consultation on the proposed draft electric vehicles policy for Delhi, wherein he reiterated that his government has the “political will” to take “tough decisions” to bring down pollution levels.
Delhi’s Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot said the AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) government plans to float tenders for the 1,000 electric buses shortly. On November 2, Gahlot launched an e-bus for trial, and Delhi plans to roll out zero-emissions vehicles in the next five to six months.
“The electrical vehicle policy being discussed today is a good step. And, greater usage of public transport would be a major step towards curbing air pollution. People started using Delhi Metro when it was introduced, and it is a very clean and efficient mode of transport,” Kejriwal said, PTI reported.
The government has planned to introduce 3,000 buses, out of which 1,000 would be e-buses, Kejriwal said. “And, once these 1,000 e-buses arrive, and if they turn out to be technologically and economically viable, in future, we will buy e-buses only,” the Chief Minister added.
Odd-even to return?
With Delhi’s air quality fluctuating between “severe” and “very poor” levels, Chief Minister Kejriwal said that the “odd-even” car rationing scheme could be reintroduced if the need arose.
“If the need arises, we will soon implement the odd-even scheme in the capital,” news agency ANI quoted Kejriwal as saying, NDTV reported.
The odd-even scheme was first introduced in Delhi in 2015. In 2016, the scheme was enforced twice — between January 1-15, and between April 15-30 — wherein vehicles having odd and even number plates were allowed to operate on alternate days.
Speaking about precautionary measures taken by his government, Kejriwal said, “We have started large-scale tree plantation drives … We are going to buy 3,000 buses … The Delhi government has sanctioned one of the largest metro phases in NCR on Monday … We have also identified around 160 lakes which we plan to recharge. That will help the ecosystem around them … But, unless each individual plays a responsible role in reducing pollution, we can’t help much,” as per a TimesNow report.
Have precautionary measures failed?
The CPCB announced measures such as shutting factories and construction sites in heavily polluted areas along with an advisory to avoid using diesel-powered vehicles.
“The situation might improve slightly but is likely to continue in severe category until afternoon of 26 December, when wind speeds will pick up and improve dispersion of pollutants,” a task force headed by the CPCB said, Mint reported.
Pollution in Delhi has risen to unimaginable levels, and steps this year have failed to make much of an impact. In the absence of a comprehensive solution, many fingers have been pointed at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration, Delhi’s government, and the governments of states around the capital.
During October and November, the Central government blamed neighbouring states for failing to curb the burning of stubble in fields. Since then, Delhi’s air has been on the decline, and it worsened in December, data showed, as per the Mint report.
Delhi records second-most polluted December since 2014
After pollution levels reached extremes on Sunday and Monday, the national capital recorded the most polluted December in 2018. The unfavourable weather conditions in the past few weeks have been shockingly opposite to the favourable meteorological conditions in the last month that had made it the cleanest November in the past three years.
Delhi’s Air Quality Index (AQI) had risen to 469 in 2017 and had made it the most polluted December so far. Delhi’s AQI in December 2018 was only a little better, and no major improvement was noted as it was recorded at a “severe” 423 on Monday, December 24.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius.