How do you solve In­dia’s air pol­lu­tion prob­lem?

Mint ST - - PLAIN FACTS - PM2.5 con­cen­tra­tion (mi­cro­gram per cu­bic me­tre) 0 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 PM2.5 con­cen­tra­tion (mi­cro­gram per cu­bic me­tre) 300 BS-II BS-III BS-IV BS-VI

Pol­icy in­ter­ven­tions can help im­prove air qual­ity, but only when they at­tack the roots of the cri­sis, tackle the right prob­lems and are im­ple­mented well

from the Na­tional Aero­nau­tics and Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s (Nasa’s) Mod­er­ate Res­o­lu­tion Imag­ing Spec­tro­ra­diome­ter (Modis) in­stru­ment shows the count of fires in these states and Delhi dropped from 30,902 in 2016 to 22,809 in 2017. The max­i­mum num­ber of fires on any sin­gle day was suc­ces­sively lower in 2016 and 2017, com­pared with 2015. PM2.5 con­cen­tra­tions on the days of the worst air qual­ity in Delhi, too, were lower for these two years.

Still, the PM2.5 read­ing is far from ‘good’ or ‘sat­is­fac­tory’ (charts 2a and 2b). The pol­icy has been im­ple­mented par­tially: states have not im­ple­mented the stub­ble ban ef­fec­tively. Fires con­tinue to rage across the four states, high­light­ing how fight­ing air pol­lu­tion will re­quire co­or­di­na­tion. An­other pol­icy in­ter­ven­tion has tar­geted ve­hic­u­lar emis­sion, which ac­counts for 25% of PM2.5 con­cen­tra­tions in the win­ter months and 8.5% in sum­mer. In 2002, the Supreme Court or­dered the con­ver­sion of pub­lic trans­port ve­hi­cles to com­pressed nat­u­ral gas. More strin­gent pol­lu­tion tests were in­tro­duced in 2006. Be­tween 2002 and 2007, PM10 lev­els fell.

This was a brief respite. Be­tween 2007 and 2014, PM10 lev­els dou­bled, as the num­ber of pri­vate ve­hi­cles in Delhi rose from 5.3 mil­lion to 8.5 mil­lion. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, there was a pull­back on pol­icy ac­tion. For in­stance, there have been no up­grades to cleaner fuel emis­sion norms. It is only this year that cleaner Bharat Stage-vi

MINT GRAPHITI (BS-VI) fu­els have been in­tro­duced in Delhi. The SC has also man­dated that start­ing April 2020 new ve­hi­cles should meet BS-VI norms (chart 3).

These ex­pe­ri­ences high­light the im­por­tance of tack­ling all the sources of pol­lu­tion through­out the year to im­prove air qual­ity.

An­other im­por­tant source of PM2.5 in Delhi’s air is sec­ond- ary par­ti­cles (those formed from gases such as sul­phur ox­ides (SOX) and ni­tro­gen ox­ides (NOX), coal, and fly ash). In­dus­tries in and around Delhi con­trib­ute to this by us­ing coal, fur­nace oil or pet coke as fuel. This has been an area of pol­icy ne­glect with no ac­tion tar­get­ing in­dus­tries taken be­tween 2006 and 2016.

This has changed in re­cent times. In Oc­to­ber 2017, the SC banned pet coke and fur­nace oil in UP, Haryana and Ra­jasthan. The Badarpur plant—the lone coal-fired plant in Delhi— was shut down this year, and in­dus­try emis­sion stan­dards for SOX and NOX were is­sued. An En­vi­ron­ment Pol­lu­tion (Pre­ven­tion and Con­trol) Au­thor­ity re­port pub­lished in Oc­to­ber, how­ever, shows that there is no Di­wali day sta­tus re­port on the im­ple­men­ta­tion of SOX and NOX stan­dards yet.

Delhi and In­dia clearly re­quire more poli­cies that tar­get all the ma­jor sources of emis­sions—but these poli­cies should also pro­vide al­ter­na­tives. Su­mit Sharma, di­rec­tor of Earth Sci­ence and Cli­mate Change at The En­ergy and Re­sources In­sti­tute, warns that the bans and re­stric­tions on fu­els will work only if the use of cleaner fu­els is in­cen­tivized.

“With the right kind of push and pull mea­sures, if you in­tro­duce gaseous fu­els in NCR, it can bring tre­men­dous ben­e­fits,” he says. He also sug­gests that as new ve­hic­u­lar norms be­come ef­fec­tive, mon­i­tor­ing older ve­hi­cles should re­main on the radar for ac­tion. Pub­lic trans­port op­tions that are not based on fos­sil fu­els should be in­creased. Fi­nally, for a prob­lem that plagues an en­tire re­gion, these mea­sures also need to move out of Delhi and make up for the lost time.

Ab­hishek Jha is a re­cip­i­ent of the Mint-hin­dus­tan Timeshowin­di­alives Data Fel­low­ship 2018.

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