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Foggy policies for smoggy Delhi

foggy delhi

A major cause of concern is Delhi’s 8.1 million and growing vehicular population, which is the largest contributor to air pollution in the city. (G’nY file photo)

New Delhi, Jan 30 (G’nY news service) According to a New York Times report dated 25 January, 2014, Delhi recorded eight days when the particulate matter (PM 2.5) crossed the 500 mark in the first three weeks of January this year; Beijing breached the same level on the night of January 15. Beijing panicked, but Delhi is sworn to denial.

As reported in G’nY times’ Delhi snoozes, Beijing Panics (Jan 29, 2014), Scientists from the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and System of Air Quality Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) are either rubbishing the report or denying the severity of the problem.

A major cause of concern is Delhi’s 8.1 million and growing vehicular population, which is the largest contributor to air pollution in the city.

Environmental lawyer M C Mehta, who was at the forefront of the campaign to introduce CNG in vehicles, said that the government should put a cap on the number of vehicles allowed in Delhi and strengthen public transport. “There should be disincentives for buying new cars.” Mehta believes that the fuel policy should be changed – the diesel subsidy should be limited to farmers and public transport vehicles.

Anumita Roychowdhury, Centre for Science and Environment, said that the government should set time bound plans to improve the air quality, which should be legally binding. “Delhi has already executed first generation action which included introduction of CNG in vehicles and relocation of industries. We need to keep up the momentum and introduce second generation action – reduce dependence on personal vehicles, improve access to public transport, promote cycling and walking,” Roychowdhury added. It is a different matter that there are no walking and cycling tracks mandated in India’s capital.

Jagori Dhar of Greenpeace informed that certain provinces in China have a cap on the number coal thermal power plants. China has introduced heavy fines on vehicles that do not conform to prescribed norms apart from enforcing GPS-enabled systems for traffic control in the past year. As the licenses need to be renewed every two years, offenders have to cough up substantial sums to avail continued driving privileges.

To improve the air quality, vehicular emission must be reduced by reducing the number of vehicles and there needs to be action on biomass burning said M. P. George, senior scientist in DPCC.

While the scientific community ridicules the report and alarm over pollution levels with data and doubtful claims, a section of the political class seems clueless about the measures that need to be taken.

Delhi’s Aam Admi Party is not responsive to the suffering citizens of Delhi as repeated attempts to contact them brought no result. It does not mention air pollution in its 18 point priority plan for Delhi. A popular daily made a wishlist for the AAP, which included only rainwater harvesting as an environmental agenda.

Meenakshi Lekhi, BJP’s spokesperson, said that a New York publication, which is in a country responsible for a major chunk of pollution, does not have the authority to comment on the pollution in India. “These are ways by which the developed countries want to control developing countries,” she said. She went on to add that it is necessary to keep Delhi green by planting more trees to reduce the pollution. She may have to bring clarity on how PM 2.5 could be mitigated by planting more trees.

Congress’ Renuka Chowdhury said that a macro level national health policy needs to be developed for lung related diseases. Air pollution affects children the most, young people are hospitalized frequently and so a sense of urgency is necessary to improve the air quality, she added. No concrete plans to address the problem were outlined.

If what scientists claim is to be believed, the PM 2.5 did not cross the 250 mark. However, even 250 falls in the highest category as per SAFAR standards. In addition to particulate matter, the air in Delhi contains a toxic cocktail of SO2, NO2, NO, CO – most of which are carcinogenic. CPCB has identified 43 critically polluted areas in India, but there is no data about the air quality from these areas which could be poorer than ever imagined.

The all-pervasive feeling among the government driven scientific community is of adequate interventions. Gurnam Singh, scientist in the CPCB air lab said that there have been policy changes already – CNG, Euro norms for vehicles. Even India’s media fails to make the link between politics, policy and environment. The media needs to question political parties about their missing environmental agenda.

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