New Delhi: The Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority (EPCA) has indicated that restrictions on private vehicles could be imposed in Delhi, if the air quality plunges to emergency levels. “The recent forecast has shown air quality is set to worsen in the next few days and if it crosses severe levels, we will have to take the emergency steps. If need be, we will have to restrict the use of private vehicles on Delhi roads from 1 November. Only public transport will be used. This is part of the Graded Action Response Plan," said Bhure Lal, chairman of the EPCA, on Tuesday.
“It would be binding on the state government to procure transport from adjoining states. Metro will have to enhance service intensity and number of coaches. So, emphasis will be on public transport," he added.
The Delhi government had in January 2016 introduced for two weeks an odd-even rule for rationing of cars on Delhi roads. The practice was discontinued entirely in November 2017.
A thick haze already hangs over Delhi. On Tuesday, the city’s Air Quality Index (AQI) score was 401, which falls under ‘severe’ category. According to the Air Quality Early Warning System, Delhi’s air quality is likely to remain severe for the next three days.
“The prevailing meteorological conditions are less favourable for dispersal of pollutants for next two days due to low wind speed across the northern region," said Dr Gufran Beig, project director at System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research, or SAFAR, a body under the Ministry of Earth Sciences that provides real-time air quality data for metropolitan cities.
According to SAFAR, an AQI between 0-50 is considered “good", 51-100 “satisfactory", 101-200 “moderate", 201-300 “poor", 301-400 “very poor" and 401-500 “severe".
A large number of fires are being reported Delhi’s neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab, indicating crop stubble burning, which is likely to worsen the pollution levels in the city-state.
The emergency plan under Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) put into force on 15 October, allows EPCA to enforce stringent actions based on the deteriorating air quality of the city.
“Construction activities and excavation work, including hot-mix plants and stone crushers, have already been banned across Delhi/NCR, and more pre-emptive steps can be taken by EPCA, if the pollution aggravates. The actions would depend on severity of the situation," said Anumita Roychowdhry, executive director at New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
Apart from enforcing pollution control regulations in brick-kilns and industries, the authorities have also shut down the Badarpur thermal power plant. Increase in frequency of mechanized cleaning of roads and sprinkling of water on roads has also been recommended.
If the air quality falls to severe plus emergency category, EPCA could also direct for closure of schools citing public health emergency.
Even as the situation worsens, scientists have called for a multipronged strategy involving effective monitoring of emission sources.
“Delhi is not located near a coast, where you have the luxury of getting things flushed out in the sea, there is a serious winter problem and a topography problem. We need a multipronged strategy and effective monitoring of emission sources," said S.N. Tripathi, professor at Centre for Environmental Science and Engineering, IIT Kanpur.
Meanwhile, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-led Delhi government on Tuesday announced that 44 joint teams of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Delhi government will be deputed from Thursday to curb local sources of air pollution and take action against violators across the city-state.
The teams have been mandated to take action against offences including garbage and stubble burning, vehicular and industrial emission, use of power generators, construction and demolition waste.