Context : A high-level task force headed by the principal secretary to the Prime Minister has released a 12-point draft plan to tackle pollution in Delhi NCR. The task force includes senior officials from the environment, agriculture, earth sciences, transport, power and petroleum ministries and principal secretaries of Delhi and NCR states.
Background: The task force was formed after a severe spell of pollution in the region in November when air quality remained at hazardous levels for almost two weeks. The centre and the Union environment ministry faced flak for failing to coordinate actions across states that impacted Delhi NCR’s air quality.
The environment secretary is tasked with ensuring implementation of the measures, while the task force will step in occasionally to monitor progress. The direct intervention by the PMO would give the action plan more heft.
- Put in place a plan to manage crop stubble and ensure that data on its burning is generated independently and in real time by monitoring the fires.
- Punitive measures for polluting industries have to be stricter and clearly defined to fix accountability which seems to be very relaxed in the current plan and, finally, the PMO has to intervene at the national level to act on the rising air pollution and health crises.
- Conduct source-attribution studies for NCR every year. The lack of data has been a problem in implementation of pollution-control measures. The last comprehensive study on air pollution in Delhi NCR was done by IIT-Kanpur in 2015.
- Nitrogen oxide emissions from thermal power plants should be brought under control. In December 2015, the environment ministry notified stricter standards for thermal power plants. None of the plants met the deadline to comply with the norms this year. These include limits for particulate matter, sulphur oxide and nitrogen oxide.
- Decongestion measures must be implemented in choke points in Delhi, Meerut, Rohtak and Gurugram. Recommendations to improve public transport include adding buses, improving last-mile connectivity, launching a journey planner app integrating Metro, DIMTS and DTC services.
- An anti-pollution helpline has also been proposed along with an app whereby people can submit photos of violations to get prompt remedial action.
- The action plan called for strict action against polluting brick kilns, especially in areas such as Bagpat (Uttar Pradesh) and Jhajjar (Haryana), operating without environmental clearance. These kilns are required to migrate to zig-zag technology that reduces particulate matter pollution.
- The task force also called for promotion of electric vehicles to tackle transport-related pollution. State and municipal bodies have been asked to manage solid waste better and ensure no fire outbreaks at landfills. Agencies involved in large construction projects have been directed to set up facilities to take care of construction and demolition waste and recycle as far as possible.