It’s been a week in the gas chamber for the residents of India’s capital city, and the elected government can’t seem to think beyond some token water-spraying of trees and bringing back its touted but unproven odd-even car rationing scheme. The charade continued on Tuesday: the National Green Tribunal turned down a review petition of the Delhi government seeking exemptions for women and two-wheelers in the odd-even scheme. The Delhi government came back with a second review application demanding that the vehicle restriction scheme be implemented across the entire National Capital Region, almost 50,000 square km that includes Delhi and its adjacent districts from other states.
In another side-show that seemed to drive home the point that nobody really cares, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh rejected Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s plea for a meeting on stubble-burning and air pollution in the National Capital Region, and asked him to refrain from “trying to politicise a serious issue”. This followed Kejriwal’s request via Twitter for a meeting with Amarinder Singh in Chandigarh on Wednesday.
The Delhi Chief Minister is scheduled to arrive in Chandigarh on Wednesday to meet his Haryana counterpart Manohar Lal Khattar. The ongoing drama is just a little short of absurd: the three chief ministers are yet to speak on phone, let alone meet, preferring to address each other through tweets in cyberspace and quotes to reporters.
Meanwhile, Delhi continues to suffer along with the smogged-out swathe of northern India that largely coincides with what is called the Hindi-speaking cow belt of national politics.
— Dr Renu Sehgal (@drrenusehgal) November 8, 2017
What has come to rescue—if going from off-the-scale air pollution to a relatable severe level can be called that—is the weather, light winds taking the death-edge off the smog amd the possibility of rain bringing hope. Six of Delhi’s 15 regions recorded “very poor” air pollution levels rather than “severe” for the first time in the past week.With wind speed almost doubling as compared to last week and chances of drizzle in NCR and neighbouring states, the air quality is set to improve further, falling under “very poor” or “poor” category, experts said.
According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) the average AQI of Delhi-NCR was 398 while the major pollutant PM2.5 or particles with diameter less than 2.5mm recorded 397 units at 6 pm—considered “very poor”. However, the average AQI of Delhi at 6 p.m. was 407 with PM2.5 at 406 units, considered “severe”.
This is considered an “improvement” as for past seven days since November 7, Delhi had been breathing toxic air with average AQI ranging between 460 to 500, on a scale of 0 to 500 and PM2.5 reached a dangerous 945 units at some places including Ghaziabad—37 times the safe limit.
“Delhi is out of emergency but not out of danger. In the coming days by November 16 and 17, the conditions are expected to get better. Unfortunately we are happy even though the air quality is very poor. In many countries there is an emergency-like condition at this air quality which we are cherishing as improvement.”
Usman Naseem, researcher at Centre for Science and Environment and member Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution Control Authority
According to data from System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR), six out of 10 monitoring stations across Delhi-NCR fell out of “severe” zone to “very poor”. However, Lodhi Road in Central Delhi, Delhi University North Campus, Ayanagar in South Delhi and Pitampura in North Delhi continue to be ‘severe’. The most polluted region according to CPCB in Delhi-NCR includes Ghaziabad where at 6 p.m. the AQI was 471, Anand Vihar with AQI 458, Noida sector 125 with AQI 464—all considered ‘severe’.
According to India Meteorological Department (IMD), the wind speed so far towards Delhi was 5 to 7 kmph coming from eastward, however the wind speed had suddenly increased to 10 to 15 kmph from north-west which would help in dispersing the pollutants hanging in the air.
“There are fair chances of drizzling tonight or early morning on Wednesday, November 15 in parts of Haryana and Punjab. Since the winds are coming from there with good speed, the pollutant there would first settle due to rains, so the winds entering Delhi would be pure and then speed would disperse the smog here,” Charan Singh, chief weather forecast officer at IMD, said.
Earlier in the day, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) turned down the Delhi government’s plea to exempt women drivers and two-wheelers from the odd-even vehicle restriction scheme, saying there was “no logic” to the proposal. But, coming up with its second review petition, the Delhi government tried to address the “logic” for seeking the exemptions and sought implementation of the odd-even scheme in the neighbouring states as well, or at least part of NCR, including places in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, stating that they had a cumulative effect on Delhi’s air.
NDTV reporting that the Delhi government received ₹750 crore in past two and a half years to fight air pollution. And they spent less than ₹1 crore out of this.
Meanwhile, city buses in Delhi fell from 6,204 in 2011 to 3,951 today.
So much could have been done.
— Siddharth Singh (@siddharth3) November 14, 2017
“Direct neighbouring states to implement odd-even scheme,” the new review petition of the Delhi government read. Defending exemption for women drivers from the odd-even scheme, the Delhi government pointed to “comfort” of women as the logic and continued seeking it in the new petition. “Such women will not feel comfortable while travelling in heavily crowded buses,” the petition stated.
The city government also came up with a defence for two-wheelers, stating that it would need at least 2,500 additional buses to accommodate women and two-wheeler riders, which it currently did not have.
There are over 68 lakh two-wheelers in Delhi, out of which 25 lakh hit the road daily
The new petition pointed out that the shortage of buses would be largely resolved in a year and sought exemption until then. “Exempt two-wheelers and women drivers for one year or till another 2,000 buses are engaged,” the Delhi government requested.
Earlier, the Tribunal rapped the Delhi government for its first review plea that it filed on Tuesday, asking why should exemption be given to two-wheelers — the major cause of pollution — and why the government could not run special busses to accommodate women drivers. “On what basis, are you asking exemption for two-wheelers,” asked NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar. On Delhi government counsel Tarunvir Singh Khehar raising the issue of women’s security, the tribunal said: “Why don’t you run Women’s Special buses?”
The tribunal also rapped the Delhi government over “delay” in the procurement of 4,000 additional buses and noted that sprinkling of water on pollution hotspots was not being done properly. “Why don’t you act upon those who are responsible for pollution? How many people have you penalised or challaned so far?” Justice Kumar said.
The Punjab Snub
Responding to media reports triggered by Kejriwal’s tweet to once again seek a meeting with him, the Punjab Chief Minister said he “failed to understand why the Delhi Chief Minister was trying to force his hand, knowing well that any such discussion will be meaningless and futile”.
“Kejriwal’s tendency to indulge in petty street politics is well known,” Amarinder Singh said, adding that the Aam Aadmi Party leader was “evidently trying to divert public attention from his own government’s failure to check pollution in Delhi, as exposed by National Green Tribunal response to the ill-conceived odd-even scheme”.
Amarinder Singh said: “The problems faced by Delhi and Punjab on this count are completely divergent, with no meeting ground. Unlike Punjab, the Delhi problem is mainly the result of urban pollution caused by mismanaged transportation and unplanned industrial development. Instead of focusing all his attention on resolving these issues, Kejriwal wants to waste time with holding useless discussions.
“Every citizen is suffering from pollution. All authorities have opined that pollution on account of road transport is the major source of air pollution in Delhi. We need buses. This needs more serious attention than burning of crops and odd-even scheme.”
“The Delhi government should make an effort on war footing to bring in more buses as there is urgency for more buses for Delhi’s citizens.”
Delhi High Court observation on a petition by a person suffering from locomotor disability, challenging the Delhi government’s decision to procure 2,000 standard floor buses at a cost of Rs 300 crore.
He said he did not have the same luxury of time (as Kejriwal). “The Delhi Chief Minister has often been accused of leaving the national capital in the midst of a crisis and travelling to other places when his presence has been needed the most back home,” Amarinder Singh said.
Amarinder Singh said the Supreme Court was already seized of the pollution problem and had already made it clear that it was in favour of a comprehensive long-term solution. “That is what Punjab is also seeking. I am hopeful that the apex court will show the way to resolve the crisis, with the Centre also pitching in, as requested by Punjab,” the Punjab Chief Minister said.
“As far as stubble-burning is concerned, it is not a political issue that Kejriwal is trying to project it as. It is an economic problem crying for economic solutions, which the central government alone is in a position to provide,” he said.
Jammu and Kashmir to the rescue?
The Regional Met Office of Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday said rain and snowfall forecast in the state will help reduce the smog and pollution levels in Delhi and its adjoining areas. Sonam Lotus, director of the Met Department said: “The balancing of weather system in the coming days in Jammu and Kashmir will definitely help in decreasing the pollution levels in Delhi and adjoining areas as the system is moving Westwards from the state. The smog and pollutant levels will drop in Delhi because of the wind speed generated by the gathering weather system in the state.
Outdoor air pollution nailed for 6% of India’s disease burden
A report on Tuesday said outdoor air pollution caused six per cent of the total disease burden in 2016. According to the report, titled ‘India State-level Disease Burden’ and released by Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu here, indoor air pollution also caused five per cent of the disease burden last year. “The contribution of air pollution to disease burden remained high in India between 1990 and 2016, with levels of exposure among the highest in the world. It causes burden through a mix of non-communicable and infectious diseases, mainly cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, and lower respiratory infections,” said the report.
It said that the burden of household air pollution decreased between 1990 and 2016 due to decreasing use of solid fuels for cooking, and that of outdoor air pollution increased due to a variety of pollutants from power production, industry, vehicles, construction and waste burning.
The burden due to household air pollution is highest in the Empowered Action Group states — that receive special development attention from the government — where its improvement since 1990 has also been the slowest. On the other hand, the burden due to outdoor air pollution is highest in a mix of northern states, including Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Bihar and West Bengal.
Calling for immediate measures, the report says that control of air pollution has to be ramped up through inter-sectoral collaborations based on the specific situation of each state.
— Madras Memoirs (@MadrasMemoirs) November 11, 2017
#DelhiChokes transport minister’s talk,he just doesn’t know his job, unfit, complete chaos, construction sector flouting rules, no governance at all
— A S Murthy (@MurthyAS) November 14, 2017
#DelhiChokes Trucks halted. Groceries rotting. Shops empty. Restaurants losing business. Brick kilns shut. Construction stopped. Some factories closed. Flights cancelled.
We all share the environment. If we don’t care for it, it will drag us all down when it collapses.
— Manas Fuloria (@mfuloria) November 11, 2017
Still khattar saab and kejriwal ji planning to meet each other that too tomorrow .Tx … I bet they have air purifier at their homes #politics . Why can’t we have odd even? #SupremeCourt .only increasing the parking rates @DELHIMETRO will solve the purpose #DelhiChokes
— Abhishek (@Abhishekkmrjha) November 14, 2017
Don’t let your child smoke/cough his way to school. Take care of his health and help reduce air pollution. #PledgeAgainstPollution
— SANJAY BAFNA (@sanjaybafna) November 14, 2017
(Reproduced tweets do not reflect Lokmarg editorial policy)