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Combatting Delhi's deadly air

Combatting Delhis deadly air

The Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) to combat the rising air pollution in the capital has kicked in from Monday and will remain in effect till March 15. GRPA prescribes a set of anti-pollution measures that automatically come into force once the pollution level rises beyond a certain threshold that has been divided into four categories — poor, moderate, severe, and severe+ or emergency. Last year too, GRAP was implemented and reported to have improved the air quality to the extent of 15 to 20 per cent. GRAP has been devised by the Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA). As the pollution level at the moment is in the 'poor' category, a set of mild anti-pollution measures will come into effect including a ban on burning of garbage in the open and running of diesel gen-sets. As part of the GRAP, Badarpur Thermal Power Plant too will be closed from October 15. When the air pollution level touches severe+ or emergency level, the odd-even scheme for vehicles is implemented.

The quality of air in Delhi is always a matter of concern because of the high degree of pollution but the situation becomes all the worse during the winter when a combination of factors lead to severe air pollution. Rising number of fuming vehicles, the presence of dust and ultra-fine suspended matters in the atmosphere because of incessant construction and demolition activities in the city and industrial pollution from coal-based power plants are some of the main reasons for Delhi's bad air quality. Another factor that significantly contributes to the alarming level of air pollution during the winter in the national capital is the practice of stubble burning in neighbouring states of Haryana, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh. In order to prepare their farms for next round of cultivation, farmers in these states set the stubble left behind from the previous crop in the fields on fire. The fumes rising from these fields enter Delhi and keep the sky overcast with a thick layer of smoke. As there is little wind activity during the season, the cold weather becomes all the more unbearable and sickening.

As the chorus to improve the quality of air that we breathe became louder, the state government and different municipal bodies active in the national capital last year joined hands to make GRAP a success. As part of this plan, we got to see mechanised sweeping of roads and the sprinkling of water in parks and footpath. Even the odd-even scheme for vehicles was implemented under which private vehicles were asked to keep off the roads on certain days in a fortnight. All these measures were helpful and the capital reportedly saw some better days in terms of clean air even in the peak of pollution. The severity of air pollution during the winter leads to a number of health issues, respiratory problems in particular, and affect the children and the elderly most. The cost of severe air pollution that the national capital witnesses every winter is particularly high for those who have to work outside and remain exposed to the poor quality of air for long hours. Most of these people end up at government hospitals when they fall sick as a result of poor air quality and rising level of particulate matters in the air.

With GRAP coming into effect from Monday, the national capital will see a self-regulated mechanism to combat any rise in air pollution. There are well-defined measures in accordance with the level of pollution that has to be implemented till March 15. As of now, the pollution level is in the 'poor' region and the full effect of stubble burning has not been noticed. But in the coming days when stubble burning will be at its peak in the neighbouring states, Delhi is likely to see mornings filled with smog. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has warned that if the neighbouring states do not take the necessary steps to check residue burning, his government will move the court on the issue. Though there is an unanimity among the states concerned on the issue, they are unable to figure out how to tackle the practice of stubble burning by farmers. One of the plans is to compensate the farmers and ask them to use other methods to clean their fields and prepare them for cultivation while the government would compensate them for the cost that they incur on the alternative method. But there are hiccups and the plans need to be fine-tuned before they can be introduced. But at any rate, this would not give instant results and the situation can improve only in the long run.

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