Autumn is around the corner. Autumn, the month of festivals, lights and colours. But for Delhi, the months of October and November are more than just festivals, lights and colours.
With the starting of the festive season, Delhi witnesses a spike in air pollution and with each passing day, the city becomes a gas chamber. While the city pollution sources continue to burn the lungs of people, polluted air due to crop burning from the neighbouring states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan also hit the city.
Despite the usual bad news of pollution, the citizens this year got some unexpected good news too. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said last week that pollution levels in Delhi, primarily the concentration of particulate matter, has reduced by 25% over a period of four years. It is undoubtedly true, that the credit for the reduction in pollution, goes to every stakeholder of Delhi and mostly the citizens of Delhi, who realised the dangerous effects of air pollution and came forward to fight against it.
With this good news about pollution reduction, Delhi has made two important developments. From this year (2019), Delhi will have its own Winter Action Plan to combat air pollution, as announced by Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal. With this announcement, air pollution has also become a part of the political narrative. Both developments are significant in terms of governance and politics.
Many years ago, taking cognizance of Delhi’s air pollution, the Supreme Court of India constituted a pollution watchdog, known as EPCA or Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority. The EPCA came up with an action plan to combat air pollution known as Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP). The GRAP comes into play from November and stays active until March. GRAP has various categories of action based on the air quality of the city. As per the order of the Apex Court, all the stakeholders of Delhi followed the GRAP. But, until now, Delhi never had its own action plan to combat pollution.
The Delhi government on Friday announced a seven-point action plan to check growing pollution in the national capital.
The plan involves the following steps:
2. Pollution Masks
3. Community Diwali Laser Show
4. Environment Marshals
5. Hotspot Control
6. Dust Control
7. Tree Challenge
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said that the N-95 masks will be distributed free of cost by October. The Delhi Government also announced that the Odd-Even scheme will come into play from November 4 till November 15.
Political reactions and responses from common people poured in minutes after the announcement by the Chief Minister. A section of the critics slammed the decision of the Delhi government, noting that last time the government introduced the scheme, the implementation was poor. Another section observed that the Delhi government did little in terms of improving the public transport system, because, during its governance, the number of buses in Delhi went down, but the government did not acquire new buses. However, the government bought 1000 new buses and 25 of them have already hit the roads.
Keeping everything aside, it is high time to accept that every step to curb pollution is experimental and every agency has done the same. As the main stakeholder of the city, the elected Government of Delhi cannot stay on the back foot to fight pollution. A Government’s work is not restricted to governance; giving the people confidence is an important part of the work. The question of implementation must be checked but the intent of the Delhi government to bring its own action plan should not be questioned.
In India, every political party is democratically chosen and they come to power by fighting an election, therefore, it’s beyond any reasonable doubt, that the decisions of the government are political. For an important city like Delhi, won’t air pollution become a part of the political narrative? The pollution condition of the city is alarming and it’s a health emergency for the residents of Delhi. If the citizens want to elect their next government on the basis of the commitment of the political party towards combating air pollution, then it must be welcomed.
There is also a question raised by a section of society about the lack of data in support of the CM’s statement regarding the reduction of Delhi’s pollution. However, the statement of the Center for Science and Environment noted that “The analysis of annual air quality data submitted by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to the Parliament shows that the three-year average of PM2.5 levels during 2016-2018 is 25 per cent lower than the 2011-2014 baseline (three-year average).”
The CSE analysis further noted, “Between 2011 and 2018-19, days with severe-plus PM2.5 levels have lessened after 2015; pattern, duration and frequency of smog episodes are changing, and more days with lower air pollution levels are recorded during 2016 to 2018-19.”
Lastly, I think that the residents of Delhi have proved that they stand by the fight against air pollution and at the end of the day, that is what matters to the city. Every experiment by the stakeholders will not attain any success without the co-operation of the people and air pollution is a fight which every citizen must fight. The residents of Delhi will continue to cooperate because they understand that pollution can’t be fought individually, but together we can fight pollution.