Sanjaya K. Mishra
Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) is reeling under the rage of air pollution. Individuals to Activists, Government to NGOs, and Media to the Apex Court; a serious concern prevail, everywhere. Delhi is not unfamiliar with this piquant situation. Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, in order, has described this as a blatant and grave violation of the right to life of the sizeable population.
An article “The impact of air pollution on deaths, disease burden, and life expectancy across the states of India: The Global Burden of Disease Study 2017” was published in Lancet Planet Health 2018 on 6th December 2018 funded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Indian Council of Medical Research, Department of Health Research, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. According to the article, 77% of India’s population was exposed to mean PM2.5 more than 40 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Delhi had the highest annual population-weighted mean PM2.5 in 2017, followed by Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Haryana in North India, all with mean values greater than 125 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Also as per the article, 26% of global Disability-Adjusted-Life-Years (DALYs) were attributable to air pollution.
Odd-Even Scheme has been a matter of discussion. It needs a detailed deliberation and inclusion of more vehicles. According to a report prepared by the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) cited the 2018 Emission Inventory of Delhi, released by the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences, according to which there was a 40% increase in vehicular pollution between 2010 and 2018 in Delhi and its adjoining areas, thereby making them the key contributors to air pollution in the National Capital. The report also states that heavy commercial vehicles release very high levels of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide. It pointed in its report that taxis like Ola, Uber travel 400 km per day, as against personal cars that travel 55 km per day, and even if these vehicles use CNG, their net contribution to pollution will be high. This clearly indicates although measures were taken to curb air pollution the challenge remained grave due to growth in the number of commercial vehicles in the past 8 years. Though there is a provision of cancellation of PUC Certificate by authority and direction for a fresh one under rule 116 of CMV Rules, obtaining a fresh certificate that costs nearly Rs. 150/= with a validity of one year – is not so stringent to address the urgency of the air pollution problem.
Secondly, the process of issuance of a PUC certificate is not full proof. In the case of vehicles without High-Security Number Plates the level of uncertainty goes even higher. The concern becomes grave especially due to the rigmarole of changing the old vehicles, which are banned in Delhi and NCR. In this situation, the adoption of onsite vehicular pollution monitoring facilities could prove vital. And it really makes sense. It could be akin to the mobile laboratory to check industrial air pollution. He also stressed upon devising a colour coding system, whereby the air pollution measuring equipment provides a print with automatic colours such as green for vehicles in good condition or less polluting and red for vehicles polluting to a level more than the permissible limit. This will help the owner as well as traffic policemen to understand without any hassle.
With the operation of Eastern Peripheral Expressway and Western Peripheral Expressway, many vehicles do not enter Delhi. This has further reduced the air pollution load. However, it is essential that the connecting highways and roads are kept free from unplanned development. The state governments may devise plans to develop infrastructure to relocate certain business establishments from the city areas. For example – except for a few emergency services most of the major automobile service stations could be relocated to peripheral road premises. Similarly, Warehouses and Construction material suppliers may also be displaced. A planned expansion would safeguard air pollution issues. The space created after the relocation of these business units could further be utilized as parking lots. According to experts, in the near future, the vehicles will be loaded with auto-drive features. This could help in better parking sense and optimum use of parking space. This could further lead to traffic decongestion and prove to be a roborant step for air quality.
To counter environmental pollution arising out of crop residue burning especially during adverse meteorological conditions in early winter in North India, the Central Government introduced a new Central Sector Scheme on “Promotion of Agricultural Mechanization for in-situ management of crop residue in the States of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and NCT of Delhi” to provide farmers subsidized machinery required for in-situ management of crop residue. Under this scheme, there is financial assistance on purchase of eight straw management implements required for in-situ management of crop residue (50% of the cost of the implement for individual farmers; and 80% of the cost of implements for Custom Hiring Centre (CHC) by Co-operative Societies of farmers, groups or SHGs, FPOs and Private Entrepreneurs). The Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) has reportedly adopted 100 villages to stop stubble burning. The Indian Institute of Management at Amritsar has developed a mechanism to support the villagers and halt the menace of stubble burning. Over a decade, the State Pollution Control Boards in Haryana and Punjab have spent a staggering amount of funds to educate villagers to shun the stubble burning practices. The results are not convincing.
To reduce the emissions from industries, the Government of India has launched the Perform Achieve and Trade Scheme (PAT). PAT is a market-based mechanism to enhance cost-effectiveness of improvements in energy efficiency in energy-intensive large industries and facilities, including the thermal power sector, through certification of energy savings that could be traded. Although the introduction of PAT is not really encouraging, it has not gathered steam, so far. Corporates play a pivotal role in society. Though in such an emergency situation, some are minting money by selling air purifiers, air quality monitoring devices and also offering plantation design services – these acts can’t be reckoned as value addition.
Even in the information age, there are offices with different views and analysis of orders issued by courts and authorities. It is entirely impossible to expect appropriate implementation from them. Undoubtedly, this is a result of a gamut of unsustainable practices. Hon’ble Supreme Court has rightly stated that time has come when we have to fix the accountability to avoid such a life-challenging situation. There is a need to review the punishment provisions against culprits and also to institutionalize rewarding provisions to the doers and whistleblowers.
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