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As AQI climbs, Delhi govt admits next fortnight will be crucial

Nov 02, 2023 01:13 AM IST

Construction activities within a kilometre of a pollution hotspot will be banned if the air quality index (AQI) remained over 400

Delhi environment minister Gopal Rai on Wednesday said that construction activities within a kilometre of a pollution hot spot will be banned if the air quality index (AQI) remains over 400 in the locality during the next week — an announcement that came amid a steady deterioration in Capital’s air quality and an admission that the next 15 days will be crucial in the city’s annual battle against toxic, unbreathable air.

A smoggy morning in New Delhi on Wednesday. (Sunil Ghosh/HT Photo)
A smoggy morning in New Delhi on Wednesday. (Sunil Ghosh/HT Photo)

The city recorded an overall AQI reading of 364 at 4pm — the highest this season and the fifth consecutive day of worsening conditions.

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Rai said that tackling the conditions till November 15 will be critical, and several steps were being taken to reduce local sources of pollution.

“There are about five to six hot spots where the AQI has consistently been over 400. We are continuously monitoring the situation in these areas through the nodal officers who have been instructed to increase anti-smog guns and water sprinkling. We are also identifying the major factors contributing to pollution in these areas,” said Rai.

To be sure, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that the use of anti-smog guns reduces pollution effectively over an extended period.

Delhi’s air quality has worsened this year despite favourable wind conditions and the contribution of farm fires being lower compared to previous years.

Last year on November 1, the pollution levels worsened to the severe zone, with an AQI of 424. In 2021, the AQI on the same date was 281 (poor), and in 2020, it was 364 (very poor).

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court remarked that steps to improve the city’s air quality seem to be only on paper, calling it “a persistent problem year after year”.

In late October, the government identified eight new bad air hot spots, in addition to the previous 13.

Read Here: Delhi’s air quality remains ‘very poor’ for fifth consecutive day

The areas where AQI has hovered in the “severe” category (above 400) in the last four days include Anand Vihar, Mundka, Wazirpur and Rohini, which are part of the 13 pollution hot spots earmarked prior to last month. Additionally, Sonia Vihar and New Moti Bagh, which are not part of the list of 13, have also recorded pollution levels over 400 at different times.

The AQI at Anand Vihar on Wednesday around 6pm was 421, while it was 414 at Mundka, 400 in Wazirpur and 421 in New Moti Bagh.

Construction activities are usually stopped across Delhi and the NCR under the Graded Response Action Plan stage 3 (Grap 3) when the overall AQI in these cities crosses the 400 mark. However, the environment minister said the same norm will be applied at a local level in areas with AQI over 400 to control local pollution levels.

By November 10, the Delhi government said it will take over 1,000 private CNG buses to add to the public transport fleet, while trips of the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses and Delhi Metro have also been increased.

Additionally, subdivisional magistrates of different districts have held 996 meetings with resident welfare associations (RWAs) to distribute heaters to guards on night duty in order to reduce fires. Instructions have also been given to all government departments to distribute heaters.

Experts, however, reiterated that Delhi needs to work at a hyperlocal level as well as implement a citywide action plan if it wants to tackle air pollution. “This can only be done with an intensive survey of all hot spots across the city. Authorities need to check if the roads are fully paved and that there are no dusty shoulders. Pollution from emissions also needs to be controlled by regularly checking the buses and trucks that visit a particular area. Also, reengineering local traffic may be required through a survey to ensure that there are fewer traffic jams,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director (research and advocacy) at Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

She added that every spot may have specific needs and the exact source should be identified.

For instance, Anand Vihar has an ISBT and records a large volume of heavy vehicles causing road dust. There is also high freight movement along the highway nearby. Similarly, Mundka and Wazirpur are both industrial areas with multiple small industries and high traffic volumes in congested sections.

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