New Delhi: Delhiites may not face a repeat of 2016 on Friday, the day after Diwali, as the national capital is better prepared this year with a Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) already kicking in to handle air pollution.

Last year, the day after Diwali, air pollution levels were recorded at eight times the safe limit, with the national capital resembling a gas chamber. One of the main reasons was said to be crop burning in neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana. Though measures were announced to control it, not much has been done.

The System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) of the Union ministry of earth sciences has predicted that there will not be a repeat of 2016 this year. As per SAFAR, air quality is expected to range from moderate to poor during the next three days.

“Difficult situations demand tough responses and solutions and Delhi-NCR is faced with a really difficult situation each winter when air pollution levels spiral out of control. The EPCA and all other agencies of the government are prepared to take those tough decisions which we believe will help clear the air," said Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) chairperson Bhure Lal. EPCA is the nodal authority for tackling pollution in the national capital.

In December 2016, the Supreme Court had approved GRAP to tackle air pollution in Delhi and adjoining regions. The main objective was to institutionalize measures to tackle air pollution emergencies, giving a clear direction of steps to be taken by central and state authorities.

GRAP was then notified by the Union environment ministry in January 2017. It classifies air pollution into four categories in terms of air quality—moderate to poor, very poor, severe, and very severe or emergency.

Moderate to poor is when particulate matter (PM) 2.5 and PM10 levels are between 61-90g/m3 (microgram per cubic metre) and 101-250g/m3 respectively; very poor is when PM2.5 and PM10 levels are between 121-250g/m3 and 351-430g/m3 respectively; severe is when ambient PM2.5 and PM10 levels are more than 250g/m3 and 430g/m3 respectively; and very severe or emergency is when PM2.5 or PM10 levels are above 300g/m3 and 500g/m3 respectively, and persist for 48 hours or more.

Several meetings of EPCA have taken place in the last few months and several aspects of GRAP have already been set in motion. For instance, the Badarpur power plant will be closed during winter this year, starting 15 October, before being shut down permanently in July 2018.

The state pollution control boards of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana have already been directed to monitor pollution from the remaining thermal power plants—Dadri in UP and Jhajjar in Haryana. This also includes the management of fly ash from the plants.

Meanwhile, the Delhi police and Delhi transport department are also enforcing Supreme Court orders, which requires only trucks destined for Delhi and not older than 10 years to be allowed entry after payment of an Environment Compensation Charge (ECC).

According to EPCA, the idea is that the region does not have to impose ‘emergency’ level measures, which come into effect when pollution is categorized as severe but there are more challenges.

“Delhi-NCR has a long way to go before it can lay claim to having reasonably clean and breathable air," said Sunita Narain, member of EPCA and director general of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

As per EPCA, garbage burning, controlling road and construction dust and augmentation of public transport and last mile connectivity in Delhi and NCR are critical areas of intervention in future.

There may also be a hike in parking fees in Delhi for vehicles by up to four times in the next few days. The measure may also be enforced under GRAP.

“Delhi’s air quality has already entered the red zone. Parking fee may have to be hiked in Delhi, despite the fact that a parking policy is still being worked out. If air pollution in Delhi aggravates further reaching alarming proportions, cars will have to be off the roads," Narain said.

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