Arun Jaitley announces special scheme to tackle Delhi air pollution in Budget 2018
Experts welcomed Arun Jaitley ‘s move but also cautioned that air pollution is a national crisis not limited to the Delhi-NCR area and requires wider support
New Delhi: Acknowledging air pollution in the Delhi-National Capital region (NCR) as a serious problem, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday announced a scheme in his budget speech to support the governments of Delhi and neighbouring states in tackling high levels of air pollution.
Experts welcomed the move but also cautioned that air pollution is a national crisis not limited to the Delhi-NCR area and requires wider support.
“Air pollution in the Delhi NCR region has been a cause of concern. A special scheme will be implemented to support the efforts of the government of Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi to address air pollution and subsidise machinery required for in-situ management of the crop residue,” Jaitley said.
On Monday, the Economic Survey had suggested detailed measures to tackle air pollution in the Delhi-NCR area, including a series of steps to handle the problem of stubble burning in states around Delhi.
It had suggested conversion of agricultural waste into usable fodder or biofuels to tackle burning of crop residue, one of the major causes of pollution in the Delhi-NCR region.
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To control agricultural waste burning, the Economic Survey suggested heavy penalties, use of satellite- and mobile-based applications and incentive payment to farmers.
The Survey also identified vehicular emissions and construction activity as causes of high pollution levels in the NCR. It had recommended solutions such as “congestion pricing” for vehicles, expanding and improving the public bus system to reduce private vehicle use, phasing out of old vehicles, and accelerating Bharat Stage VI (BS VI) emissions norms due to be in place from April 2020.
In the past few years, the Delhi-NCR area has experienced alarmingly poor air quality, especially in winters when farmers in northern India burn stubble after harvesting the crop.
In the 2017-18 winter too Delhi experienced high levels of air pollution, with air quality crossing the “severe” level, which is several times the safe limit. Burning of agricultural waste, dust and pollution from vehicles were among the main identified reasons behind high levels of pollution.
The central government’s focused scheme to address the issue in the Delhi-NCR region is significant. However, as per official data, nearly the entire Indio-Gangetic belt suffers from high air pollution and some areas are even more polluted than Delhi-NCR.
A report by Greenpeace on Monday ranked Delhi as India’s most polluted city, followed by Faridabad in Haryana, Bhiwadi in Rajasthan and Bihar’s capital Patna. It also said the most polluted cities are spread across the Indo-Gangetic basin, while southern cities are slightly better off compared to their northern counterparts.
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The report also estimated that close to 550 million people live in areas exceeding national standards for PM10 (particulate matter), including 180 million in areas where air pollution levels are more than twice the stipulated limit of 60g/m3 set by the Central Pollution Control Board.
Experts welcomed the move but said air pollution is a national crisis and requires more focused efforts, especially in critically polluted areas.
“While support for in-situ management of crop residues in the three states is a step in right direction, we are still waiting to know if that is all the government is offering to do about controlling air pollution. Air pollution is a national crisis and requires support for wider mix of solutions in all critically polluted areas,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based environment think tank.