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The EPCA report card emphasized that, ‘current levels of air pollution are unacceptable and are a serious health issue’ and ‘the damage to human health because of toxins in air must not be under-estimated’. Photo: HT
The EPCA report card emphasized that, ‘current levels of air pollution are unacceptable and are a serious health issue’ and ‘the damage to human health because of toxins in air must not be under-estimated’. Photo: HT

Air quality in Delhi-NCR in winter season slightly improved: report

An EPCA report warned that there was still a long way to go to achieve clean air and stressed that the fight against high levels of air pollution needed a comprehensive plan

New Delhi: Air quality in Delhi and adjoining regions this winter season (October 2017-February 2018) showed a slight improvement from the previous year, with the number of days in the ‘severe category’ decreasing in each month except in January but the air is not even close to being called clean yet, said an analysis released by the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) on Wednesday.

The report warned that there was still a long way to go to achieve clean air and stressed that the fight against high levels of air pollution needed a “comprehensive plan, credible monitoring, enhanced implementation and rigorous enforcement".

The EPCA report card emphasized that, “current levels of air pollution are unacceptable and are a serious health issue" and “the damage to human health because of toxins in air must not be under-estimated."

EPCA was formed by central government in compliance with a Supreme Court order to tackle pollution in Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR).

According to EPCA’s report card on Delhi’s air pollution, data from 1 October 2017 to 25 February 2018 shows a “slight improvement in air quality levels".

“An analysis of the Central Pollution Control Board’s air quality index data shows that the number of days in the severe category has decreased for each month in comparison to the previous year, except in January. In February, 16% of the days were in the moderately poor category, compared to 8% in the previous year," the EPCA report card said.

But there are still reasons to worry as the report shows, “comparison of PM2.5 (Particulate Matter) concentrations at four monitoring stations -- Mandir Marg, Punjabi Bagh, R K Puram and Anand Vihar – shows that the impact is not visible yet."

“Pollution levels remain high. The data on the hot-spot pollution areas, in particular Anand Vihar, also shows that pollution levels are extremely high – and do not show any sign of improvement," the report added.

“This reduction in pollution levels shows that we can make a difference. But the air is not completely clean yet. We must not lose the momentum in our fight for clean air. We must not lose sight of the fact that right to breathe is fundamental," said EPCA chairperson Bhure Lal, while releasing the report.

Another EPCA member Sunita Narain said the air quality in Delhi-NCR region was so toxic that all combined efforts have reduced pollution merely from the “severe-severe plus category to poor-very poor category".

“Remember, very poor category is still deadly. According to the health index of the government, prolonged exposure to this level of pollution is hazardous, even for healthy people. This means that all of us breathing this air are exposed to toxins and this will impact our health and more importantly, health of our children. Therefore, we need to do much more to reduce pollution and bring it to the good-moderate level," she added.

EPCA stated that the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) adopted by authorities has shown an impact but much more needs to be done.

It called for massive augmentation of public transport, cleaner fuels like natural gas or electricity generated from cleaner sources including renewable, efforts to enforce and implement directions for not burning of garbage, dust management and efforts to subsidise farmers’ technologies that allow them to re-plough the straw into the ground.

Bhure Lal said these actions were needed “at scale and speed".

Crop burning in northern states is often cited as one of the biggest reasons behind the high levels of air pollution in the city. This year too it impacted air quality levels in the Delhi-NCR region.

In December 2016, the Supreme Court approved GRAP to tackle air pollution in the Delhi-NCR area. GRAP, which was notified by the union environment ministry in January 2017, classifies air pollution into four categories of air quality—moderate to poor, very poor, severe, very severe or emergency. It gives a clear direction on the steps to be taken by the central and state authorities at each level.

EPCA also listed out a series of actions that are needed from March 2018 onwards to further improve the air quality. It called for actions such as completing setting up of the network of monitoring stations and their linking, ensure GRAP is followed, strict regulation on polluting industries, tackle crop burning and others.

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