The Smog Wars | pollution

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Until the protests against the new citizenship law presented themselves as a more emotional electoral problem, it looked as if Delhi's inevitable annual fight against pollution would also apply to the upcoming February 8 poll. The Air Quality Index (AQI) for Delhi has declined and has improves from "dangerous" to "very bad".

Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal spoke to the Group Editorial Director separately Raj Chengappa and deputy editor Shwweta Punj overcoming the main pollution problems of the state capital. excerpts:

Q. What are the main causes of pollution in the state capital?

Prakash Javadekar: Pollution consists of four to five components: vehicle, dust management, biomass combustion and industry. The composition is different in each city, so we have a National Clean Air Program (NCAP) that contains city-specific plans. These plans have different interest groups, but the city agency, state government, and state environmental protection agency are the main agencies. Burning stubble is an issue in Delhi, but only from October to November. Vehicle movement is the main problem here. Around 95 percent of pollution is caused by local factors – dust pollution, waste incineration, unpaved roads, burning local biomass. Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the National Air Quality Index [to monitor the quality of air in urban centres on a real-time basis], Accepting a problem is the beginning of a solution.

Arvind Kejriwal: Delhi has local sources of pollution (e.g. dust, vehicles and industry) and external sources of pollution (especially stubble combustion). During the rest of the year, when pollution is caused by local sources, it drops by 25 percent. In October and November, however, pollution becomes unbearable due to stubble.

While this is the general trend, the relative contribution of each source varies over time and can only be determined through a real-time study of source allocation. Delhi is the first to do this in collaboration with the University of Washington. The data results from the study will be available by April.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. (Photo: Bandeep Singh)

Q: There is criticism that the regulatory mechanisms lack financial muscle, be it the NCAP or the Delhi green budget.

Prakash Javadekar: The center is at your side with advice and action. In total we gave Rs 400 crore. Some cities have received Rs 10 crore and some Rs 5 crore as part of the NCAP. The industry has to bear its expenses. In Delhi, for example, 3,000 industries have switched to natural gas pipelines. It was a cost to them and we just have to make sure they make the switch. Each of the 2,800 brick kilns in Delhi has introduced zigzag technology at a cost of around £ 10 per kiln. You paid the costs, we implemented them.

Arvind Kejriwal: There is not a single focus area. Our 2018-19 Green Budget Action Plan, presented as part of the Delhi annual budget, identified 26 different initiatives spanning five departments that the state government is working on to combat pollution. We have ensured that adequate funds are made available for each of these initiatives. For example, we have earmarked 800 rupees for the introduction of 1,000 electric buses – the biggest step of this kind in an Indian city. Compare this to the fact that the total Indian government allocation for NCAP for the period 2019-2020 is only 460 billion rupees.

Q: There has been enough debate about the causes of pollution in Delhi. However, it is criticized that governments are not serious.

Prakash Javadekar: Delhi had 200 good and 165 bad air days in 2019. In the past, the situation was reversed. We have reduced the number of days of bad air by a few specific factors – by providing 1,100 rupees from the central fund to stop stubble burning, 40,000 Punjab machines and 18,000 Haryana machines and have supported new innovations to convert stubble to CNG. I am sure that we will remedy the situation in 2020 and that the stubble problem will be resolved within two years. Vehicle pollution is the main problem in Delhi. There are 10.4 million cars and 8 million two-wheelers on Delhi roads and 1.2 million to 1.5 million vehicles are added every year.

When we came to power, India used BS III fuel. We started to supply BS IV with an investment of 40,000 rupees. Now we have skipped BS V and jumped to BS VI. We have completed the eastern and western peripheral expressways to create a bypass for Delhi. We have introduced RFID tags at all entry points so that there are now no interruptions that have reduced the overload.

Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar (Photo: Shekhar Ghosh)

Arvind Kejriwal: Over the past five years, the Delhi government has been working on several long-term and short-term measures. We provided 24/7 electricity in all parts of Delhi by upgrading our infrastructure. As a result, Delhi power outages have dropped 87 percent and nearly five lakh diesel gensets have been decommissioned. We also banned the use of environmentally harmful fuels such as coal and made sure that 95 percent of our industries switched to clean fuels. We shut down our two thermal power plants in Rajghat and Badarpur. In Delhi, too, access to diesel trucks was restricted by the introduction of the Green Cess and the creation of the Eastern and Western Peripheral Expressways. We have imposed severe fines on those who violate construction, demolition, and open dumping / incineration regulations. We have increased Delhi’s green space by 1,100 hectares since 2015 by undertaking warfare plantation activities.

In the short term, Delhi again observed the odd-even pattern in 2019 with almost 100 percent compliance. For the first time in India, Delhi watched a four-day community of Diwali on Connaught Place in 2019, with laser shows, artists, and fun activities to get people away from fireworks. We have distributed 5 million free N95 masks to schoolchildren and their parents, an unprecedented sales program to protect them from pollution from stubble burning.

Q: How successful has pollution control been with the odd-even system? And how important is stubble in Delhi?

Prakash Javadekar: I'm not talking about optics. I speak substance. The Delhi government should have contributed to the fourth phase of the subway project, but it did not. A court had to order them to pay their share of the Eastern Peripheral Expressway. They promised 5,000 buses, but only brought in 120. Six thousand tons of rubble are processed into tiles, 200 tons of waste into compost. We have closed the Badarpur power plant. I keep an eye on industries and take action against those in default. Stubble burning had dropped to two percent in 2019. The maximum reached was 40 percent. Local biomass combustion and industrial pollution are very high. There are 130 stations in the Delhi NCR that monitor the air quality index, and 46 Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) teams have been operating for 10 years [conducting inspections], Around 25 percent of pollution is due to vehicles. After five years, it will only be 5 percent. We have weekly meetings to monitor the situation, including at the PMO.

Arvind Kejriwal: According to data transmitted to the Parliament by the CPCB from the 38 real-time monitoring stations in Delhi, the annual PM 2.5 value in the capital had decreased by 25 percent between 2016 and 2018 compared to the base period from 2012 to 2014. A report published by the Center for Science and the Environment further states that Delhi is now a model for other Indian cities to combat pollution due to the various measures. From August 1st to October 9th last year, Delhi did not experience a single "bad" AQI day. The sudden surge in air pollution from October 10, NASA satellite images show, was accompanied by a rapid increase in stubble incidents that undermined the hard work.

Q: States like Punjab are demanding a higher MSP as an incentive to stop stubble. Is there a reason for this request? What are states doing to address the problem?

Prakash Javadekar: How do you know if the farmer isn't on fire just to get a higher MSP than the captain (Amarinder Singh, Chief Minister of Punjab) requested? We have made machines available, but there are ongoing costs. The problem is that the constitution only speaks about our rights, not about our obligations. Delhi has a special problem. We have the shape of a trough, a bowl between Ganga and Yamuna. So the air doesn't flow, it becomes quiet – that's a geophysical reality. Citizens should also be more proactive, do PUC, use bicycles and public transportation. Citizen engagement must increase.

Arvind Kejriwal: Stubble is an important resource and you can formulate guidelines to incentivize its use. They need capital incentives to drive industries that can use stubble as a raw material. Several entrepreneurs have considered using stubble as a raw material. State governments must promote this entrepreneurial spirit.