Insights into Editorial: Delhi air pollution: Why graded action is a good idea, but tough to implement
The EPCA, empowered by the Centre to roll out the graded response action against air pollution in Delhi and NCR towns, may come out with the first set of directives shortly. The union Environment Ministry recently notified a ‘Graded Response Action Plan’ against air pollution for Delhi and the National Capital Region. The plan puts governments under the lens and holds out the promise of improvement in air quality, if followed properly.
The plan was prepared by the Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA), which held meetings with stakeholders from all states over several months.
The formation of Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA), an SC-mandated body that has over a dozen members, was notified in 1998 by the Union Environment Ministry under the Environment Protection Act.
What does a ‘graded response’ to air pollution mean?
A graded response lays down stratified actions that are required to be taken as and when the concentration of pollutants, in this case particulate matter, reaches a certain level.
- At the current level of pollution, that is oscillating between poor and moderate, the measures that are to be enforced under GRAP include strict ban on garbage burning, closing brick kilns, mechanised sweeping of roads, enforcing ban on fire-crackers among others.
- If pollution climbs to the next level, very poor, tougher measures are to be enforced including hiking parking fees by up to 4%, banning diesel generator sets and increasing frequency of metro.
- Under the plan, odd-even car rationing scheme and halt on construction activities may be imposed across Delhi-NCR if air quality remains at the emergency level for 48-hours.
- Importantly, unlike the two rounds of odd-even car rationing scheme implemented last year, any such future action under the graded plan when pollution touches emergency level will also have two-wheelers under its ambit.
- The plan is not restricted to just the Centre and the state government of Delhi. Neighbouring states also have to play their parts as environmental problems always spill over borders.
How will the system work practically?
The concentration of pollutants will be communicated to EPCA by a task force that will primarily comprise officials from the respective pollution control boards and India Meteorological Department. This will be an average for the entire city.
- The job of ensuring implementation of the action plan will be EPCA’s, which will delegate the responsibility to the concerned departments. According to EPCA’s report, at least 16 agencies will have to work together to implement the various parts of the plan.
- These include the municipal corporations of all NCR towns, the traffic police, police, transport departments, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, Delhi Transport Corporation, Resident Welfare Associations, Public Works Departments and Central Public Works Department, Chief Controller of Explosives, and the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation. Each body has been set a task that it will have to carry out when EPCA asks it to, based on the concentration of pollutants.
What are the challenges in implementing the plan?
A large number of agencies, from different states, will have to work together — this in itself is a huge challenge. That a coordination agency — EPCA — has been appointed is the silver lining.
- Some agencies have already pointed out problems in implementing the plan. During an air quality emergency, for example, odd-even has to be imposed. The Delhi government has, however, stated that it will be very difficult to implement the scheme without a notice of at least a week, so that alternative arrangements for public transport can be made and an awareness drive launched.
- The municipal corporations, which have to hike parking rates by 3-4 times if the air quality is very poor, have to hold an elaborate meeting each time they change these rates.
- A system will have to be devised, experts say, to smooth out these problems. The next month is expected to see a flurry of meetings involving all concerned agencies, especially pollution control authorities and state governments.
Now that the situation is alarming, India’s fight against air pollution must assume a sense of urgency. Examples around the world, particularly Beijing in the recent past, show that air quality can improve if governments make it a priority. It’s important to, in the first place, have accurate air quality measurements all across our cities to give us a real-time indication of the extent of the problem. Only that, in combination with trying out a variety of measures suggested by experts, can tell us what works and what doesn’t.
Given the stakes involved and the fact that environmental fallouts cannot be confined within state borders, all stakeholders must work together to improve air quality in India. They should also search for long-term solutions which minimise economic costs. Enhanced investment in public transport, for instance, can mitigate the environmental fallout and also yield economic benefits.
Involvement of Supreme Court in this issue is a significant moment in India’s battle for clean air, emphasising the need for a comprehensive plan presenting systemic solutions and reminding governments that a plan can be executed successfully only if all stakeholders work in tandem. This template should also be adapted for other Indian cities that suffer appalling air quality. Air pollution extracts an enormous price in terms of health, particularly of children. Combating it must become a governance priority.
What role could the Supreme Court play in addressing the problem of increasing pollution in Indian metros? Will it have any impact? Critically analyse. (200 Words)