CSE warns Delhi-NCR on smog: Step up action to prevent public health disaster

  • Delhi enveloped by smog – what is the key reason?

  • Calm and cool weather may make pollution hang heavy. But the smog is this bad only because pollution levels are already unacceptably high and rising.

  • The clean action plan for the city as well as the entire NCR must gather momentum.

  • Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) steps in to develop an action plan for entire NCR. Action plan to come up in consultation with other state governments.   

New Delhi, November 6, 2013: “The early onset of cool and calm weather and the daily pollution dose have triggered the current severe smog in NCR,” says Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) executive director-research and advocacy, Anumita Roychowdhury. 

She explains that with the wind nearly gone, the pollution – mainly from vehicles -- built up quickly very close to the ground level and enveloped the city in a thick blanket of smog. Every winter, the calm and cool weather makes pollution hang heavy, but the severity of the smog depends on the actual pollution level that is already unacceptably high and rising in Delhi. While the serious concern over very high levels of tiny particles persists, elevated levels of other pollutants have been now added to the toxic cocktail. 

A quick assessment of the post-Diwali smog episode shows: 

  • Several pollutants have gone up in several localities: Nitrogen dioxide levels have worsened; daily peaks of carbon monoxide are unacceptable and benzene levels are high. This has emerged from official monitoring. Some of these pollutants come predominantly from vehicles.

  • Killer particles: PM2.5 levels have exceeded the standard by five-six times. Global studies have shown that an increase of only 10 microgramme per cubic metre of PM2.5 is associated with significant increases in health risks. High exposure to PM2.5 is known to lead to increased hospitalisation for asthma, lung diseases, chronic bronchitis and heart damage. Long-term exposure can cause lung cancer.

  • High NOx: NO2 levels have breached the standard in all locations. Levels have been increasing in the city unacceptably, which is a clear sign of pollution from vehicles. NO2 can trigger serious respiratory condition and sudden death syndrome among infants.

  • Pollution during peak traffic hours and freight movement are more severe: Pollution levels peak significantly during heavy traffic hours compared to off-peak hours. For instance, carbon monoxide that curdles blood and comes almost entirely from traffic sources exceeds the one hour standard by 1.8 times. PM2.5 peak hour values range from 379 (morning) to 751 (evening); compared to non-peak levels, the evening peak is three times higher. NO2 peak hour values range from 118 in morning to 185 in evening.

  • Night time pollution is very high: PM2.5 levels in the night are hitting about 680 microgramme per cubic metre while NO2 stands at 140 microgramme per cubic metre. This is primarily due to movement of goods traffic and inversion conditions. 

Action must gather momentum
The process of putting in place both short term as well as long term pollution control measures that was kick started last year to meet the clean air standard by 2017 has not been completed yet. Delhi has lost crucial time. 

In the meantime, the Supreme Court appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority has taken steps to follow up with the neighbouring state governments to develop an action plan for the entire NCR to clean up the air shed. In October 2013, the EPCA had proactively intervened to review the preparedness of the Delhi authorities as well as the state governments of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in the NCR to prevent smog episodes. All the concerned authorities are required to submit action taken reports every week to monitor progress. The action points include:

• Check visibly polluting vehicles on roads at borders, especially diesel vehicles and vehicles entering Delhi. Uttar Pradesh and Haryana transport departments to implement regular audit system for PUC centres in NCR as it exists in Delhi.

• Ensure strict enforcement of Supreme Court order restricting entry of goods vehicles not destined for Delhi, into Delhi. 

• All generators installed in industrial and commercial establishments to comply with the applicable emission and noise norms. People to be given the opportunity to lodge complaints. 

• Conduct special vigil in industrial areas and take action against industries whose chimneys are found emitting dark smoke.

• Form special teams to keep a vigil on incidences of leaf and garbage burning and take action against defaulters. Municipal authorities asked to depute officials to whom the public can inform and complain.

• Ensure proper dust control measures at major construction sites. Implement the ban on open burning inside and outside the city.

o Ensure that air quality monitoring data, both continuous/automatic and manual is regularly provided to CPCB. UPPCB and HSPCB will provide data of manual stations to CPCB within two days of monitoring. Delhi government to expedite development and implementation of air quality index and health advisory system.

o Make paddy straw burning an offence in the region. However, the EPCA also says the chances of farm fires contributing a lot to Delhi smog this year are low as the Met department has said that the wind direction this year is not favourable for the farm fire smoke to drift towards Delhi. In any case, stringent measures are needed to avoid any possibility of such an incident. Delhi’s neighbouring states have initiated a string of measures – Haryana has prohibited straw burning since 2003, while the Punjab government has come up with a draft policy on management and utilisation of paddy straw. In Uttar Pradesh, a cabinet note for issue of notification prohibiting straw burning under Air Act 1981 has been prepared and sent for approval. 

Issue daily pollution alerts: Delhi government needs to expedite the process of finalizing the daily public information system on severity of air pollution and give out health advisory to people who are vulnerable to respiratory and cardiac problems. Other global governments do so. During high pollution episodes Paris authorities recommend drivers to postpone trips to Paris; or bypass Paris city; use public transport; organize car-pooling; minimize combustion of high sulphur fuels in industry; curtail industrial operations and so on. Berlin does not allow older polluting vehicles in the city centre in any case. Other governments take daily pollution levels very seriously to protect public health.  

Need more stringent action on vehicular pollution: Though several actions have been initiated, the region needs special a spotlight on vehicular pollution. 

• Scale up and integrate public transport systems. Augment walking and cycling facilities for green commuting. 

• Physically remove visibly smoking vehicles. Enforce emissions checks on in-use vehicles. 

• Augment intercity public transport connectivity and ridership. Restrict entry of non-destined goods vehicles to Delhi. 

• Adopt fiscal and parking measures to reduce usage of personal vehicles

• Accelerate emissions standards roadmap for clean vehicles and fuels to cut emissions are source. Stop dieselization and its toxic effects. 


For more on this, please contact Souparno Banerjee at souparno@cseinda.org / 9910864339.