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Is Delhi government concerned about the rising air pollution in the state?

June 9, 2015

To begin with, let’s focus on the two main green bodies operating from Delhi.

Is Delhi government concerned about the rising air pollution in the state

Central Pollution Control Board

It is the seat of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) since 1974 which is “entrusted” with the powers and functions under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981. It not just advises the Central Government on how to prevent and control water and air pollution and improve the quality of air, but also lays down standards for the quality of air and water in consultation with the respective state governments. In the national capital, it even has a dedicated station to monitor the air quality at the busy ITO Intersection in New Delhi as part of its overall objective to determine the present air quality status and trends, control and regulate pollution from industries and other source, and to provide background air quality data needed for industrial siting and town planning.

Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC)

The DPCC is the key body to monitor and improve the “Environmental Quality” of Delhi. The CPCB delegates all its powers and functions to the DPCC as a State Board in respect of the UT of Delhi as specified by the Central Government in March, 1991. The DPCC was reconstituted on 14 June 2002.

Now some hard facts:

Delhi’s air is the dirtiest in the world among all the other capital cities!

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) report on ambient air pollution in May 2014 finds the particulate matters in air at alarmingly high levels – the highest among some 1,600 cities across 91 countries of the world!

Recent studies have shown 11-time rise in respiratory disease cases that required intensive care at Delhi’s Patel Chest Institute in the last one decade between 2004 and 2014. It is no different at other city hospitals, too. Surveys have shown that Delhi’s children have the “weakest” lungs because of contaminated air. Gardiner Harris, the South Asia correspondent of New York Times recently left Delhi when he found his son’s lung function had reduced 50 per cent in Delhi’s toxic air!

Reports of American scientist Joshua Apte, working with partners from the University of California, Berkeley and Delhi’s Indian Institute of Technology, suggest that in fact on city roads, the average pollution levels were actually up to eight times higher!

Still worse- Experts point out that air pollution is the “fifth largest killer” in India since tiny particles (PM10 and PM2.5) affect the lungs and besides causing respiratory and cardiac problems, also cause lung cancer!

Yet what raises concern is the lack of willingness of Delhi authorities to even acknowledge the seriousness of the matter. Within hours of the publication of the WHO report, New Delhi summarily junked its finding on grounds that it had “overestimated” levels in the Indian capital city. “Delhi is not the dirtiest … certainly it is not that dangerous as projected,” A.B. Akolkar, Member Secretary of the CPCB was quoted as saying in media.

Gufran Beig, chief project scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, too, made a similar claim stating: “The value which has been given in this (WHO) report is overestimating (pollution levels) for Delhi…” Beig’s argument was that pollution levels in winter were always relatively higher in New Delhi because of extreme weather events.

But even the government has not taken such official explanations seriously and this indeed reflects poorly on the credibility of the institutions working to check pollution. Consider a recent statement by Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar who had made it loud and clear: “…scientifically you can say that Delhi’s air is three times, four times bad but let’s not quibble over that. The truth is Delhi’s air quality is bad.”

Even the Delhi High Court took suo motu cognizance of the WHO report, and on 25 March this year, wondered why the DPCC was “not concerned over the high concentration of pollutants”. During the hearing, it even expressed its unhappiness that no lawyer had appeared to represent the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and directed that the board and Centre must ensure they are represented properly at the next hearing. During the hearing, the court asked for a detailed action plan from the Delhi government and the Delhi Pollution Control Committee to tackle pollution, which it termed as “terrible” and “out of control”. It also directed amicus curie Kailash Vasudev and the environment ministry to come up with suggestions.

It may be mentioned that following a Supreme Court order of 1998 that led to public transport vehicles switching to the CNG fuel, pollution level had dipped considerably. Even records at Delhi’s leading hospitals suggest that there was a drastic fall in the complaints of respiratory ailments.

However, over the years, the plot was lost in the midst of lopsided planning and experts say the situation started worsening after 2007. Consider some facts:

  • a) Delhi High Court has expressed concerns that the city has only 11 monitoring stations for its over 1.5 crore population.
  • b) The forest cover in Delhi has been reduced to just 15 per cent as more green areas are getting de-notified.
  • c) The National Green Tribunal has identified vehicular pollution and burning of plastics as a big reason for the air pollution in Delhi.
  • d) There are no restraints on commercial trucks coming in to the city. An estimated 50,000 trucks enter Delhi every day and they emit poisonous smoke. Way back in 2004, the Supreme Court had asked for bypasses to the city but still these roads have not come up.
  • e) There has been a phenomenal rise in diesel vehicles in the city. Delhi government points out that vehicular emissions contribute 78 per cent of city’s air pollution.

Besides, construction dust, garbage burning, thermal power plants and unchecked growth of polluting industries in the National Capital Region have all contributed to the alarming rise in air pollution in Delhi.

Yet most of the checks have been imposed largely by the courts rather than the government. It was the court that ordered vehicles older than 15 years to be taken off Delhi’s roads, or ban 10-year old diesel vehicles, which has created a row at present. The government has failed to check the blatant violation of the existing rules by motorists, builders, industrialists and even by the ‘sarkari’ cleaners and sweepers.

Delhi government has decided to adopt a few measures, which include making all the main roads dust-free, congestion-free and clean, and introduce pollution-free buses. It has claimed that by this initiative, 25 percent pollution can be decreased in the national capital. But it needs to implement the 14-point clean up order issued by the National Green Tribunal to the Delhi government in late November last year that included check on vehicular pollution and taking all vehicles older than 15 years off the road. However, such old vehicles continue to ply. In view of this the government now plans to deploy Mobile Enforcement teams on regular basis at road locations for prosecution of all polluting vehicles and ones not having the PUC Certificates.

Yet, Delhi is just the window. Consider that India has thirteen of the dirtiest 20 cities of the world, as per the said WHO report! But if Beijing, which till now was the world’s most polluted city, can improve its air, why can’t we?

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Disclaimer: The views expressed are of those of the author and do not represent the views of Elections.in.

I am a journalist, educationist and filmmaker with over twenty years of experience in the media industry. I have worked in different capacities in all formats (print, television and web) in prestigious media organizations in India and abroad. As a journalist I have covered social issues, natural calamities, successive state assembly as well as parliament elections since 1989, government offices, Indian political parties, state legislative assemblies as well as Indian Parliament.

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