While Delhi Pollution reached 1700 this winter, it witnessed 5 clean air days last year, GRAP remained a failure: An RTI Study

While Delhi Pollution reached 1700 this winter, it witnessed 5 clean air days last year, GRAP remained a failure: An RTI Study...

एजेंसी

New Delhi, 9th January, 2019,: United Residents Join Action (URJA), the apex body of the resident welfare associations (RWAs) of Delhi region, released findings of 45 RTI applications filed to 14 departments, including Central, State and Municipal bodies, in order to assess effectiveness of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP).

This comes at a time when Delhi government has embarked on a process to prepare bi-weekly action plans to tackle abysmal air quality levels in the city, over and above the GRAP. It is clear that with the toxic levels of pollution in the city, a plan that kicks in, only after pollution levels become poor, isn’t sufficient.

URJA conducted the survey within a 5 km radius of the location of the  monitoring stations of the Central Pollution Control Board, around 10 locations in Delhi, namely Rohini, Anand Vihar, ITO, Siri Fort, Bawana, R K Puram, Patparganj, Lodhi Road, Dwarka and Ashok Vihar.

Awareness levels of citizens living close to these monitoring locations were surprisingly low. 89% of the respondents were not aware of any such monitoring, while another 88% had not visibly seen any LED screen displaying real time air quality data. This explains that while nearly the entire urban population is aware of the existence of air pollution, public action needs a spurt, which can only happen, when the public is fully aware of the facts.

On levels of air pollution, the study says that while PM2.5 levels in Anand Vihar went above 960 during the period of November to first week of January, the PM2.5 readings at ITO were 1700 on November 8th and above 900 at Lodhi Road areas. The other locations did not fare better.

GRAP was notified in January 2017, but despite having an action plan the national capital saw alarming pollution levels in the winter of 2017-18 and even in the summer months in 2018 due to varying causes like dust storms, crop burning, diwali spike, interspersed with year round 24X7 pollution from large sources like industries, transport and waste burning. In 2018, Delhi witnessed 5 clean air days, 66 moderate, 145 poor, 57 very poor and 92 severe pollution days.

According to GRAP, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) and the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) are responsible for keeping tabs on air quality. These agencies are supposed to process the data further and inform EPCA of the air quality status. EPCA in turn formulates the possible line of measures and conveys them to the respective authorities. The authorities are then expected to mobilise a range of actions in keeping with GRAP and air pollution levels on respective days.

The information received from the RTI responses shows that despite such detailed process and notification to act when air quality levels are bad, there is a lack of proper implementation of measures and awareness levels of departments responsible for overseeing implementation to curb pollution under GRAP.

EPCA replied to 1 out of 7 questions in the RTI, saying that 18 meetings were conducted on GRAP, and mentioned that departments like Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) and Public Works Department (PWD) were missing in the participants’ list. The transport department responded that challans were issued to polluting vehicles and higher taxes were imposed on diesel cars over petrol, but there is no information available on the environment pollution charges collected by the department.

While CPCB responded that out of 17 categories of highly polluting industries in the NCR region, only 3 industries complied with CPCB norms, out of these 2 were closed on their own and 1 complied with all pollution compliance norms. However, the number of industries in the neighbouring states which comply with pollution standards paints a clear picture of the scenario -- in Haryana 5 out of the existing 161 industries, in Rajasthan 20 out of 161, and in Uttar Pradesh 25 out of 942 industries comply with pollution standards, as per the RTI response. As per SAFAR, industrial emissions increased by 48% in 2018, compared to 2010, mainly due to increase in industrial activities in fringe areas of Delhi and not inside Delhi. Managing industrial pollution of the entire region, and not just the city, remains a challenge.

Atul Goyal, President, URJA said,

“The Graded Response Action Plan is a well thought-out policy, the need is to implement it on ground which would have helped tackle the air pollution levels rising every year in Delhi. However, RTI replies show that most agencies and departments are unaware of their duties and responsibilities, as clearly mentioned under GRAP, but with many important questions remaining unanswered by the agencies, it is evident that they are either not aware of the steps under GRAP or not ready to perform their duties. In both situations, the policy is a failure and the leaving the citizens of Delhi gasping for breath.”

The conclusions from URJA’s RTIs convey that despite the global alarm for Delhi, the authorities are not serious about tackling the problem.

As we wait for the National Clean Air Plan (NCAP) to be announced soon by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), it’s important to highlight the importance of compliance in any plan to manage air quality. If GRAP could not yield positive outcomes for Delhi, which has been reeling under smoky levels of pollution, how can we expect a pan to tackle pollution across 102 cities to bear fruit, unless it is not activated with clear timelines, targets and budgets.

Ashutosh Dikshit, CEO, URJA said,

“The NCAP is a welcome plan and we look forward to its formal announcement by the government. It will give recognition to the fact that pollution is not just a Delhi-centric problem, but afflicting cities across India. However, looking at the status of GRAP, its rate of success in tackling pollution in Delhi, which is the hub of national power and attention, it remains to be seen how well the NCAP will be implemented in Tier II and Tier III cities of the country. Air pollution is leading to a national health emergency and its time the authorities take cognizance.“

URJA, is Civil Society Initiative of Delhi, was set up in 2005 and gathers, analyzes, disseminates information & aggregates public opinion to demand efficient delivery of civic amenities, health services, security, clean air and water to residents of Delhi through an accountable, efficient and responsive Government. URJA’s Resident Welfare Association wing connects and networks 2500 RWA & partners with several significant NGOs and corporate bodies. URJA is a volunteer led not-for-profit organization.

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(Press release)

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