We are at that time of the year when pollution level rises and the Government, like every year, steps in to try and control it
There is an eerie similarity between the discomforting presence of pollutants in the atmosphere and the authorities tasked to tackle the problem of air pollution in the Capital. Both seem to work in tandem, making their appearance annually during this time of the year. That, at least, is what has been the trend over the last few years. The Delhi Government’s move to bring the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) into force confirms that the authorities have got into the act but not before a sharp spike in air pollution levels was recorded. The emergency action plan has been put into motion as the worsening air quality, which is expected to deteriorate further as we move into the crucial months of November and December. Apart from dust (both roadside and construction) and vehicular pollution, crop stubble burning in the neighbouring States of Haryana and Punjab starts having impact as it has this year, too, by the middle of October, and then there is a sharp spike in air pollution on a couple of days either side of Diwali. What aggravates the situation is that there is no reprieve from rainfall. Instead, as winter approaches, the smog that envelopes the atmosphere makes white clouds of September appear as a grey smog. This is exactly the time when the authorities wake up and get into action. It’s just like a sick person going to a doctor after her/his illness has got aggravated and s/he cannot take it anymore. GRAP is a response system which merely responds to the way the weather conditions and level of pollutant from different sources change. It’s not a pre-emptive strike against the coming danger but follow-up action.
Admittedly, the Capital’s battle against air pollution received fresh impetus when in 2016 the Supreme Court ordered the Government to bring GRAP in force and consequently it came into force in January 2017 with the best of intentions. It entailed a systematic approach to tackle each type and level of air pollution. Depending on how critical the situation is, it calls for measures like a ban on construction activities, ban on stone crushing, enhancing parking fees, and rolling out the odd-even road vehicle rationing scheme, besides calling for a ban on the use of diesel gensets. But while GRAP is in force, we cannot just sit back and think the system alone will tackle the situation. The fact is that the graded response formula can never be successful unless the State and the Centre, not to mention various agencies, coordinate among themselves better. Delhi alone has 16 agencies often working at cross-purposes which leads to a delay in decision-making. Politics between the Centre and the State is another issue with even officials nowadays busy exhibiting allegiance to political parties rather than the people of Delhi. Despite knowing that crop stubble burning is a recurring annual problem, enough has not been done to, if not eradicate, then at least minimise it. The ring of fire around Karnal in Haryana, for example, is there for all to see. Appropriate steps have not been taken. It is also ironical that fearing a Supreme Court ban on firecrackers as Diwali approaches, shopkeepers had set up shops months in advance so people could stock up before any restrictions on sale came into force. But then it is we, the people, who buy them. The reality is we need to be prepared for another winter of discontent and ill health.