Millennium Post

Setting precedent

With stricter measures under Graded Response Action Plan in Delhi-NCR set to come into force from October 15, Delhi has set an example worth emulating with respect to coordinated efforts in improving the city's air quality. The Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) has been in effect for two years in Delhi and the National Capital Region. In addition to the efforts already being carried out is there is going to be a focus on stopping the use of diesel generator sets from next week, extend beyond Delhi to the NCR, where many areas see regular power cuts. The significance of this move is that the problem of bad air quality is viewed in terms not just vehicular pollution and construction dust but as a product of common ways of living that have come to characterise life in Delhi and NCR. With the onset of winters, the level of air pollution is only expected to rise. GRAP is implemented only as an emergency measure. If air quality reaches the severe+ stage, GRAP recommends shutting down schools and implementing the odd-even road-space rationing scheme. GRAP may be credited for doing two things that are the first of their kind: creating a methodical plan for the entire Delhi-NCR region; and getting on board several agencies such as all pollution control boards, industrial area authorities, municipal corporations, regional officials of the India Meteorological Department so as to have maximum impact of the efforts as a result of coordination among the relevant agencies. Up to 13 different agencies in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan (NCR areas) need coordinated actions. The final authority is the EPCA, mandated by the Supreme Court. Prior to 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. The ban on using diesel generator sets was implemented only in Delhi last year. This year, the mandate will see an extension to a few NCR towns. Rural areas are exempt from this stringent measure because of unreliable power supply. As the government of Delhi has accomplished services in providing reasonable electricity for the need and convenience of citizens, clamping down on the use of generators to contain air pollution is not a drastic step but a skilfully pre-meditated one.

Accountability and deadlines have been the crucial elements in combating air pollution with reference to GRAP. In a vast territory like Delhi where multiple authorities have been a long-standing impediment to effective governance, this step made a very major difference. Also, owing to the clear demarcation of responsibilities, coordination among the 13 pertinent agencies from four states is simplified to a reasonable extent. The major policy decisions thus made are the closure of the thermal power plant at Badarpur, bringing Bharat Stage-VI fuel to Delhi before the deadline set initially, and the ban on Pet coke as a fuel in Delhi NCR. The systemic approach to contain the crisis has indeed born fruits and in addition to that, has also set a fair example of administrative coordination and efforts towards a common goal. Back in the late 2000s, the major shift in Delhi's public transport to low-floor CNG buses had been a mammoth task given all the stakeholders involved. The EPCA has been since then monitoring pollution and assisting the Supreme Court in several pollution-related issues. A point of criticism, however, of both EPCA and GRAP is that the focus has been limited to the nation capital. The 2014 study by the World Health Organisation that found that Delhi was the most polluted city in the world had literally spread panic in the Centre and the state government. The finding of the WHO study had been the impetus to spur efforts in this direction but it is certainly to the credit of the present dispensation in Delhi that the efforts have been consistent and fruitful. It is in this manner that Delhi has effectively been a pilot project in the crisis arena of air pollution; the challenge that must be taken now is to extend the measures to other states as well. The efforts of the Delhi government under Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal have been nothing short of remarkable and he was to present the set of initiatives executed by his government to check air pollution in Delhi in an international forum but having been denied clearance for a visit by the Ministry of External Affairs to speak at the C40 Climate Summit in Copenhagen this week. This development also spotlights the need for coordinated effort for curbing pollution as air is common and does not recognise territorial boundaries.

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