New Delhi: The Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority (EPCA) has suggested that plying of diesel vehicles be banned and thermal power plants be shut when pollution breaches ’emergency’ levels in Delhi-NCR, as part of a fresh set of recommendations to strengthen the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP). The Supreme Court-appointed panel, in its submission to the apex court has also pitched for stickers on vehicles reflecting fuel and age so that based on the level of air pollution, certain categories of vehicles can be prohibited from hitting the roads. The recommendations form part of the EPCA’s assessment of GRAP’s implementation this season and its learnings from the smog episode which prompted it to enforce a series of emergency measures across the region.
Dwelling on the need to include further measures that can bring immediate relief during future smog episodes, the EPCA observed that stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana is a contributory factor but not the only problem during the winter months.
So, there may be a need for additional emergency measures like closure of all coal-based thermal plants and industries in the region. Currently, the Supreme Court has imposed a ban on pet coke and FO (furnace oil), but there may be a requirement to temporarily halt all other air polluting sources during peak smog periods.
Ban on all diesel vehicles on roads/and or stickers of fuel and age on all vehicles through PUC (pollution under control certificate) so that based on level of threat, categories of vehicles can be prohibited from plying. This, however, will require intervention from the relevant ministries so that the stickers are tamper-proof, says the EPCA’s submission to the Supreme Court.
The EPCA also stressed the need for better weather forecasts so that agencies have advance notice of the measures that need to be taken, stating how authorities were in the dark till the evening of November 6 that pollution levels were heading towards an alarming spike by the next morning.
EPCA is now given to understand from weather experts, including India Meteorological Department (IMD), that the situation of the past few days was unprecedented. Two air circulatory systems – one bringing pollutants from crop burning in Punjab and Haryana, (including according to one theory dust from multi-day dust storm in Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) and the other bringing moisture from the east collided over Delhi region. This formed a cloud of pollutants, trapped in moisture, which combined with near calm wind conditions at the ground-level, suffocated the region.
EPCA had no advance warning of this weather conditions. It only has information about the current state of pollution through the real-time monitoring from the air quality index. But across the world, where such smog alert systems are in place, a robust and reliable weather forecasting system is essential for action, it said.
There is a need for a vastly strengthened system of health advisories to people to take preventive action, the EPCA said, acknowledging the limitations of the current web-based system where information on the level of pollution (AQI) and health impacts is provided.
It also pointed how the inadequacies in the existing public transport system was hindering the effective implementation of measures under GRAP such as odd-even car rationing scheme or enhanced parking fees.
Currently, in Delhi, there are fewer buses on road than there were three years ago. The situation across NCR is also very unsatisfactory. Under GRAP (very poor category) generator sets are banned. But there is a huge power shortage (not in terms of generation but supply) in the districts of NCR. Therefore, mandating this will not work, it said.
The panel, headed by retired bureaucrat Bhure Lal, will take up the fresh recommendations with the Ministry of Environment and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) next week.