Insights into Editorial: How plan for clean air works
Air pollution causes cancer, lung disease and heart attacks. It is a public health risk that lowers the quality of life and productivity.
Starting October 15, some stricter measures to fight air pollution will come into force in Delhi’s neighbourhood, as part of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP).
The action plan has already been in effect for two years in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR).
For PM2.5, the source apportionment, according to the study, was: road dust (38%), vehicular pollution (20%), domestic sources (12%), industrial sources (11%), concrete batching (6%), hotels and restaurants (3%), municipal solid waste burning (3%), diesel gensets (2%), industrial area sources (2%), and cremation, aircraft and medical incinerators (1% each).
For NOx emissions, industrial point sources (52%) and vehicles (36%) were the biggest contributors, followed by diesel gensets (6%), the study found.
What is new in the recent announcement of stricter measures:
It is mentioned that measures aimed at stopping the use of diesel generator sets will, from next week, extend beyond Delhi to the NCR, where many areas see regular power cuts.
The measures that are coming into force will be incremental. As pollution rises, and it is expected to as winter approaches, more measures will come into play depending on the air quality.
All these measures are part of GRAP, which was formulated in 2016 and notified in 2017.
Experts working in the field of air pollution have credited this list of measures with causing the dip in Delhi’s air pollution over the past few years.
What is Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP)?
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.
A graded response lays down stratified actions that are required to be taken as and when the concentration of pollutants reaches a certain level. It works only as an emergency measure.
As such, the plan does not include action by various state governments to be taken throughout the year to tackle industrial, vehicular and combustion emissions.
Monitoring of Air Quality and taking respective steps:
- When the air quality shifts from poor to very poor, the measures listed have to be followed since the plan is incremental in nature.
- Approved by the Supreme Court in 2016, the plan was formulated after several meetings that the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) held with state government representatives and experts.
- The result was a plan that institutionalised measures to be taken when air quality deteriorates.
- If air quality reaches the severe+ stage, GRAP talks about shutting down schools and implementing the odd-even road-space rationing scheme.
GRAP has been successful in doing two things that had not been done before:
- Creating a step-by-step plan for the entire Delhi-NCR region and
- Getting on board several agencies: all pollution control boards, industrial area authorities, municipal corporations, regional officials of the India Meteorological Department, and others.
- The plan requires action and coordination among 13 different agencies in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan (NCR areas). At the head of the table is the EPCA, mandated by the Supreme Court.
- Before the imposition of any measures, EPCA holds a meeting with representatives from all NCR states, and a call is taken on which actions has to be made applicable in which town.
- Last year, the ban on using diesel generator sets was implemented only in Delhi. This year, it is being extended to a few NCR towns.
- Rural areas are, however, being left out of this stringent measure because of unreliable power supply.
Has GRAP helped in reducing Pollution?
The biggest success of GRAP has been in fixing accountability and deadlines.
For each action to be taken under a particular air quality category, executing agencies are clearly marked.
In a territory like Delhi, where a multiplicity of authorities has been a long-standing impediment to effective governance, this step made a crucial difference. Also, coordination among as many as 13 agencies from four states is simplified to a degree because of the clear demarcation of responsibilities.
Three major policy decisions that can be credited to EPCA and GRAP are the closure of the thermal power plant at Badarpur, bringing BS-VI fuel to Delhi before the deadline set initially, and the ban on Pet coke as a fuel in Delhi NCR.
The body continues to monitor pollution and assists the Supreme Court in several pollution-related matters.
What measures have been taken in other states?
One criticism of the EPCA as well as GRAP has been the focus on Delhi.
While other states have managed to delay several measures, citing lack of resources, Delhi has always been the first one to have stringent measures enforced.
In a recent meeting that discussed the ban on diesel generator sets, the point about Delhi doing all the heavy lifting was also raised.
In 2014, when a study by the World Health Organization found that Delhi was the most polluted city in the world, panic spread in the Centre and the state government.
The release of a study on sources of air pollution the following year also gave experts, NGOs and scientists a handle on why Delhi was so polluted.
For GRAP as well as EPCA, the next challenge is to extend the measures to other states effectively.
What must be also taken into account is that sustained poor quality of the air one has to breathe is a sharply negative factor, for drawing in investment too.
Beijing implemented graded action plans over the past few years. Paris also implemented the odd-even road rationing scheme when PM 2.5 levels crossed 95 µg/m³.
A credible, transparent and accountable data collection and monitoring system that is available for timely swift action is to be ensured.
Increasing the number of monitoring stations, data dissemination, public participation on planning and implementation.
Setting up of air information centre for data analysis, resource apportionment studies, national inventory and rural monitoring stations, besides guidelines for indoor air pollution.