First, the good news: In addition to announcing a ban on the storage, distribution, sale and bursting of firecrackers, the Delhi government has drafted a 10-point winter action plan to combat air pollution, based on data from the last five years to predict ‘hotspots’ two weeks in advance.
The draft plan is currently being circulated among air pollution experts and clean air advocates for feedback.
This is good news because the government has finally begun planning ahead of the annual winter pollution spike and because it will finally enlist predictive models and historical data and attempt to be more proactive, instead of reactive.
This has been the biggest complaint against the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP). It was an emergency measure that banked on short-term control measures even as air pollution went off the charts.
Now for the bad news. The Delhi government’s environment department still depends on models like the GRAP, the same tired and inefficient civic agencies, and the under-staffed Central Pollution Control Board to help enforce existing pollution-control laws.
On September 14, the Delhi government conducted a review meeting with agencies that help run the city, including the Development Authority, Jal Board and the Public Works Department. The government is expected to unveil its final plan on September 30.
In this context, one saving grace is that the government intends to reach out to the newly minted Commission on Air Quality Management (CAQM). The CAQM has the ability to coordinate as well as catalyse bureaucratic decisions. It is itself headed by a bureaucrat – M.M. Kutty – who, as former chief secretary, is familiar with working with the aforementioned, and other, agencies.
Delhi environment minister Gopal Rai has already said that he will call upon the CAQM this week to discuss stubble-burning. He also said he would talk about the Pusa bio-decomposer – a microbial solution to ferment stubble into manure. If the CAQM is able to avert the smoke from burning stubble in north India’s farmlands, it will more than justify its own existence, and also increase the health outcomes of nearly half a billion people that live on the Indo-Gangetic Plain. Recent data from the Energy Policy Institute, of the University of Chicago, suggested around 40% of Indians lose nine