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Delhi Air Quality Improves Slightly, But It’s 'Not Safe to Breathe Yet’

EPCA report card of Delhi’s winter shows dip in the number of days when air pollution was in ‘severe’ category, but there’s still a long way to go before the city breathes easy.

Aradhna Wal |

Updated:March 1, 2018, 8:39 AM IST
Delhi Air Quality Improves Slightly, But It’s 'Not Safe to Breathe Yet’
A woman wears a face mask on a smoggy day in New Delhi on November 13, 2017. (REUTERS/Saumya Khandelwal)
New Delhi: Delhi’s air quality improved marginally in the recent winter, the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) said in its latest report, cautioning, however, that the data is no cause for celebration.

According to the EPCA report card for the period between October 1, 2017 and February 25, 2018, Delhi saw a drop in the number of days when air pollution was in ‘severe’ category, despite the smog-hit days at the onset of winter.

Around 10% of the days in January this year saw ‘severe’ category pollution, while 16% of the days in February saw ‘moderately poor’ air quality. This means that the number of ‘severe’ pollution days came down in February.

But the worst-hit areas of Delhi showed no signs of improvement. According to the EPCA, comparison of PM2.5 (Particulate Matter) concentrations at four monitoring stations — Mandir Marg, Punjabi Bagh, RK Puram and Anand Vihar — shows that the impact is not visible yet.”

Addressing a press conference, EPCA member Sunita Narain, said, "There is some visible improvement in air quality, but still a long way to go to achieve clean air. It is not safe to breathe yet."

In view of the marginal improvement, the Supreme Court-appointed EPCA, has allowed the Badarpur power plant, which had been shut for over four months, to start temporary operations. It also lifted the ban on diesel generators and allowed brick kilns to resume production.

The EPCA had, on October 17 last year, imposed the measures under the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) to combat pollution in the city ahead of the winter. On Wednesday, the EPCA said its action plan category has been changed.

The Badarpur plant in south Delhi would be "permanently closed" from July this year, the EPCA said. The gas-based Bawana power plant will start operating from March.

"The GRAP category of 'very poor' and 'severe' will be lifted, starting March 1. So, the restrictions imposed in the city last October will also be lifted. However, the category now would be 'moderate to poor' until we (EPCA) further upgrade it," Narain said.

The Air Quality Index (AQI), a measure of air pollution levels, hovers between 201 to 300 in the ‘poor’ category and 301 to 400 in the ‘very poor’ category. Levels 0-50 are considered ‘good’, while 51-100 is ‘satisfactory’. On Wednesday, the Air Quality Index in Delhi stood at 259 in the 'poor' category.

“You must understand,” said Narain, “it takes time to get things done.”

Narain’s statement summed up the delays in implementing the measures to clean the city’s notoriously toxic air. It took a year of legal tangles for the Environment Ministry to notify the standards for sulphur oxides and nitrous oxides — toxic emissions from industries and vehicles. The standards were finally notified on January 29, 2018 for 18 industries — after the ministry missed the December 31 deadline set by the Supreme Court for 20 out of 34 industries.

According to the EPCA report, the ministry is now finalising the standards for five more industry categories — limekiln, glass, ceramic, foundries, reheating furnaces. The Supreme Court had on February 5 directed the ministry to finalise these by March 31.

After finalising the standards, a monitoring system has to be put in place. The industries are supposed to install their own air pollution monitoring systems if they fall in the ‘highly polluting’ category as per the new standards.

March is also the deadline for the Environment Ministry to notify the crucial comprehensive action plan (CAP). CAP includes a series of pollution control measures, such as enhancing public transport, monitoring fuel standards and monitoring industries, that will be in place throughout the year, replacing the emergency measures in the Graded Response Action Plan.

Under the GRAP, measures under 'very poor' and 'severe' categories are rolled out when the air quality hits ‘emergency’ levels, that is when levels of PM 2.5 are between 121-250 microgrammes per cubic metre and above 250 g/m3, respectively. PM10 levels have to be between 351-430 g/m3 and above 430 g/m3, respectively.

Addressing another source of pollution, the EPCA said more brick kiln owners have agreed to adopt the zigzag technology that helps reduce black carbon emission. "About 1,400 brick kiln owners have submitted affidavits to EPCA undertaking commitment to shift to improved-zigzag kiln technology by April 2018. Roughly, 600 have converted. By July 1, 2018, only zigzag technology-compliant kilns will be allowed to operate," Narain said.

According to the EPCA, crop burning by neighbouring states will be looked at by a high-level committee set up by the Prime Minister's Office. The committee has drafted a plan to provide easy subsidies at 50-75 percent for machines that will ‘till’ the crop residue back into the soil. The plan has been accepted by the EPCA and state governments with a budget of Rs 1,200 crore for 2018.
| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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