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Road dust, crop burning, & waste management

The Delhi government has finally announced a slew of measures to deal with the rising air pollution levels in the city. Schools will remain closed for the next three days. It has also decided to halt construction and demolition work in the Capital for the next five days.  Data from the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) collated at 6 pm on Sunday showed that PM 2.5 was at 588 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m³) and PM 10 was at 844µg/m³. The analysis further said the pollution levels in Delhi were "severe", and that it will remain so for the next three days. On Saturday, the smog that enveloped New Delhi was the worst in the last 17 years. The permissible level of PM 2.5 is 60µg/m³ while PM 10 is 100 µg/m³. Levels beyond that can cause harm to the respiratory system as the ultra fine particulates can embed themselves deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream. Children are in fact exposed to higher health risks than adults, as they breathe twice as quickly, even though their respiratory systems are not fully developed. The accumulation of particulate matter could ultimately result in cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. High concentration of PM 2.5 is responsible for much of the pall that hangs over cities across North India, especially in the winter. Reports indicate that the government will use jet pressure pump technique to sprinkle water on roads to control dust particles from Monday, and vacuum cleaning of roads from November 10. Green barriers, in the form of shrubs and plants, must be placed effectively to act as dust dispersal techniques. Road dust has been identified as the as the single biggest source (38 percent) of PM 2.5, according to a recent study by IIT Kanpur. Road dust is earthen material or dirt that becomes airborne, primarily by the friction of tires moving on unpaved dirt roads and dust-covered paved roads. Our municipal corporations also needs to get their act together. The the odd-even scheme would be brought back soon, though no timeline has been established for it. On a side note, the emergency meeting held on Sunday was scheduled for last Wednesday. But it was cancelled after the Delhi Police detained both Kejriwal and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia when they attempted to visit a hospital after the suicide of a former soldier over the One Rank One Pension issue.  

Besides the scourge of road dust, crop burning in neighbouring states and the city's poor waste management practices have come to the fore.  In his meeting with Union Environment Minister Anil Dave on Saturday, Kejriwal urged the Centre to impose restrictions on crop burning in the region. Farmers in Haryana and Punjab continue to set fire to their paddy fields to prepare ground for the next crop. Winds from the west and north-west direction carry the smoke from this crop burning to the national capital, turning it into a “gas chamber”. According to a recent study conducted by the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), crop burning in Punjab and Haryana accounts for up to 60 percent of PM 2.5 that enters the national capital. Although farmers are willing to consider different ways to dispose of the excess straw, no government has provided them with any affordable options. Farmers in both states burn their excess straw every year.  It is standard practice among the farmers, despite numerous court orders recommending against it. It is apparent that government authorities in Punjab, Haryana, and Delhi government, in addition to the Centre, have been very slow in addressing the problem. It is an issue all the stakeholders could have resolved months ago. Discussing the issue now is akin to closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. As of Sunday, Union Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave stated that according to the satellite images by ISRO, it was clear that neighbouring states were responsible for only 20 percent of the pollution. The rest, he argued, came from Delhi and mainly due to its garbage problem.

In a scathing report, Down to Earth detailed its concerns surrounding waste management practices in the national capital. “Improper waste management leads to burning of wastes both at landfill sites and in open areas. While Delhi-NCR generates 10,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste every day, much of it is eventually burned, adding particulate pollution to the air. Smoke rising steadily from a mound of solid waste is a common sight in Delhi’s Ghazipur landfill. The National Green Tribunal order in April 2015 stated that garbage burning contributes 29.4 percent of air pollution concerning PM 10. While the municipal corporations have decided to impose a hefty penalty (Rs 20,000-Rs 100,000) as stipulated by the NGT to curb the rampant practice of waste burning, not much has been done to mandate waste segregation at source and penalise households and institutions that do not follow suit.” The financial and institutional capacity in our municipal systems has collapsed. There is little accountability. In the long term, the Delhi government and Centre, allied with the municipal corporations, will have to sit together and formulate ways to fix systemic problems that have affected this city’s waste management system. Even though the process of collection, segregation, storage, transportation, processing, and disposal of solid waste are detailed in the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000, little has been done to enforce them.   
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