The Supreme Court issues far reaching directives on Graded Response Action Plan to address health emergency in the National Capital Region of Delhi

In response to EPCA report on highly polluting industrial fuels of furnace oil and petroleum coke in the entire NCR, the Supreme Court has directed the Union Government to examine and ban these fuels in the NCR region. 

  • The Supreme Court has accepted the recommendations on graded response action measures according to pollution levels finalised by the Central Government and Sunita Narain. 

  • It has directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change to give this a statutory backing and notify the measures. Central Pollution Control Board has been directed to monitor and inform on air pollution levels 

  • Environment Pollution Control (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) will be responsible for issuing directions and monitor implementation across NCR  

  • Responding to the findings of the investigation by the EPCA on the quality of furnace oil and petroleum coke used in the industry and big generator sets in the NCR, the Supreme Court has directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests to examine and ban the use of these fuels in the NCR.

  • While major efforts have been undertaken to lower transport diesel sulphur to 50 ppm at present and to 10 ppm by 2020, the EPCA investigation revealed that pet coke that is widely used in industry has 74,000 ppm sulphur and furnace oil as much as 20,000 ppm sulphur. This in effect negates the efforts to tackle pollution in the Delhi and NCR region. 

New Delhi December 2, 2016: Centre for Science and Environment welcomes the far reaching decision of the Supreme Court directing the central government to notify the graded response action plan finalised by the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change/Central Pollution Control Board and Sunita Narain. This decision will give the measures under the action plan the statutory back up to make them enforceable.

The apex court has also entrusted the responsibility of directing action and monitoring to Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority while Central Pollution Control Board will monitor and inform about the air quality. 

The Supreme Court has also responded firmly to the findings of the EPCA investigation into the quality of industrial fuel including furnace oil and petroleum coke, which have unacceptably high sulphur content, and are responsible for very high toxic emissions. 

The stringent enforcement of these measures is urgently required to save lives and prevent illness by preventing pollution levels from hitting severe and emergency levels in the entire National Capital region of Delhi. 

Graded response action plan: Key highlights

  • The new graded response action plan has proposed stratified levels of action according to the air pollution levels classified by air quality index, which range from moderate to poor to very poor to severe to severe+ or emergency.

  • The measures in the action plan are cumulative and add up to the highest level, which is severe+ or emergency. 

  • During winter months the measures listed for very poor and severe will prevail. During emergency or at levels that are five times the standards, emergency action will kick in, including a ban on entry of trucks, odd and even scheme and a ban on construction.

  • Additional action can be proposed if pollution levels demand higher level of stringency. Decision to shut schools will be taken as per the need of the hour. 

  • EPCA will monitor and issue directions as needed.

Action on furnace oil and pet coke

EPCA’s sampling and testing of furnace oil and pet coke that are now widely used in industrial units has found excessive levels of sulphur. The testing has revealed that Indian pet coke has 74,000 ppm sulphur and imported pet coke has 69,000 ppm. Similarly, furnace oil has as much as 20,000 ppm sulphur. These are significantly higher than transport diesel with 50 ppm sulphur ppm that is currently available in the NCR and, which will be further lowered to 10 ppm by 2020. 

These bottom-of-the-barrel fuels are also rich in heavy metals and therefore responsible for extremely toxic emissions. 

EPCA investigation has also brought to light the fact that it is not just these bottom of the barrel fuels, but other fuel streams too coming from petro chemical plants, do not have any regulated fuel specifications. These are being widely used as industrial fuels in the NCR region. 

These fuels has already been already been banned in Delhi vide a government notification way back in 1996. EPCA has sought an extension of this ban to the entire NCR. 

Responding to these findings the Supreme Court has directed the Union Government to examine the issue and legally ban these fuels in the NCR. 

CSE welcomes these measures and urges urgent, aggressive and disciplined implementation of all these directions to address the health emergency situation in Delhi and NCR and to protect public health.