Winter pollution in the national capital has been a chronic issue and poses a serious challenge to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government. This year, there is greater expectation from the Arvind Kejriwal-led party since it is also in power in Punjab where stubble burning contributes to Delhi’s annual woes.
In an attempt to ensure Delhi breathes easy, the government, in a bold move, has decided to prohibit the sale of petrol to those who do not have a Pollution Under Control (PUC) certificate from October 25. Delhi’s Environment Minister Gopal Rai, in an interview to CNN-News18, also said the government has no plans of implementing the ‘Odd-Even’ vehicle rationing scheme as of now and will focus on the Winter Action Plan.
What are the new steps that the government is taking to ensure that this year the fight against pollution is strengthened?
First, all measures to tackle vehicular pollution, dust pollution, and fumes due to open burning of garbage will continue this year as before. Apart from that, the ban on crackers stays this year too. We are also taking some new initiatives such as registering ‘Paryavaran Mitras’ to ensure people’s participation is enhanced. Work on real-time source apportionment study has begun and post October 20, we will start getting reports so that we understand the reasons and sources of pollution in each area. For instance, we have 13 hotspots on which we are working and have had some success.
We are also strengthening our war room. The Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) will be in force from Saturday (Oct 1) and we are attaching the implementation and monitoring of the same to the war room. We will also connect the real-time source apportionment study to the war room so that everything can be monitored from one place.
What is the key difference in the amended GRAP compared to the original?
Earlier, GRAP was implemented after a deterioration in the AQI (Air Quality Index). Now, it will be based on forecasts and the amended GRAP will be implemented three days before the AQI actually deteriorates. This is the key difference.
What is the reason behind enforcing GRAP from October 1?
In October, pollution levels in Delhi begin to change. This is to ensure that all agencies remain prepared. Directions have been issued to all departments by the environment ministry to stay prepared so that based on forecasts, whenever the situation deteriorates, action can be taken immediately.
You made a big announcement that without a PUC certificate, one cannot buy petrol in Delhi. What was the need for such a decision and how strictly do you think you can enforce this?
The reason behind this is that vehicular pollution in Delhi is an important factor. As we understand, post October 25, the level of pollution will increase. The government is planning to prohibit the sale of petrol at gas stations post October 25 for those who do not have a PUC certificate.
What is the process? When will the notification be issued? How will you make people aware of this decision?
We have already completed two phases — first we issued a public notice and invited suggestions from people. We have also received suggestions from various departments of the government. Many people had concerns about implementing this decision due to reasons such as long queues and possible law and order situation. We had a joint meeting on September 29 with the transport department and traffic police and have given directions to all to enforce this. Once they are ready, the notification will be issued.
To what extent are you concerned that while GRAP is enforced strictly in the national capital, it may not be followed as strictly in NCR?
This is a big worry. In Delhi, we ensure implementation of GRAP directions but the same seriousness is not seen in NCR. Stringent enforcement is important as various reports point out that Delhi’s own sources —whether it is dust pollution or vehicular pollution — contribute 31 per cent to the overall pollution. The rest 69 per cent comes from NCR.
To give you an example, we are getting electric buses to replace CNG buses in Delhi. If diesel buses come from across the border, Delhi has to bear the load of that pollution. If norms regarding construction sites in Delhi’s neighbourhood are not implemented, Delhi has to bear that burden. I would therefore appeal to the Centre and state governments to work on this together.
Every year, you aim for a joint action plan with the Centre via the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM). What is the status of a joint action plan this year?
I feel the CAQM is much more active this year compared to before. They have held meetings at various levels. I feel that the central government, especially at the ministerial level, could make a greater political effort and if that is done, there will be improvement.
Have you made any efforts towards meeting the environment minister to thrash out a joint action plan?
We wrote to them 10 days ago and asked for an appointment but we have not received any response so far. If we do not get a response, I will send a reminder that we need to have a meeting to discuss this.
You run the government in Punjab. What will you do to stop stubble burning in Punjab? And if it does not stop, what excuse would you have?
The Punjab government made a plan to ensure farmers are given financial incentive to not burn stubble. However, the Centre rejected it.
The Punjab government is now working on another plan. We had a meeting with the Punjab agriculture minister who said the government would use the nearly one lakh Happy Seeder machines available for farmers to clear the stubble.
The PUSA bio-decomposer is also being used in Punjab as a pilot project. Compared to previous years, we are hopeful of better results.
There may be an incremental progress, but not a dramatic one. What if stubble is still burned in Punjab and it impacts Delhi?
There will be pollution. However, if there is a good beginning, the same will grow in a constructive fashion in the time to come.
Will that be one of your priorities? To decrease crop burning in Punjab?
We already held a meeting with the Punjab agriculture minister. The day the central government rejected the Punjab government’s plan, we started working on the second plan.
Is there any plan to implement the ‘Odd-Even’ scheme this year?
There is no such plan as of now. For the time being, the government will focus on the Winter Action Plan However, if despite that an emergency arises, the government will think about it.