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Challenge to maintain air quality has just begun

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By Sidharth Mishra

In the official files polluting times have begun in Delhi and the national capital region. Although it’s another matter that the morning walkers are still to feel the deteriorating air quality. This possibly because the onset of Diwali has been delayed this year.

Nevertheless, what’s nice to see is that the measures of controlling air pollution like spraying water among others have begun in the right earnest. The pollution control machinery this year thankfully has not waited for the quality measuring meters to turn red before start acting. What’s more wonderful is that nobody in the news headlines is running to take credit for the effort.

The credit for the efforts made so far should go to a rejuvenated Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) in the national capital region. Led by a ‘battle hardened’ bureaucrat Dr MM Kutty, a former Secretary in union government, the CAQM was established in 2021 to address the deteriorating air quality in Delhi and the NCR. Since the past two years it has taken several important initiatives to combat winter air pollution.

The combination of weather conditions, such as low temperatures and calm winds added with emission from stubble fire in the neighbouring states and from bursting crackers during Diwali, in the past seven-eight years has led to severe air pollution experiences. All these years, the elected government made a mockery of the anti-pollutant measures before the CAQM was established and started functioning in a very measured and focussed manner.

In a direction issued last week, it has asked the governments of Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh to incorporate electric vehicles, CNG, and BS-VI diesel buses for transportation to Delhi and also called for strict compliance.  Promotion of cleaner fuels and transition from conventional fuels to compressed natural gas (CNG) for public transport and the promotion of electric vehicles (EVs) is among important targets CAQM has set for itself to achieve.

There is a major challenge for the CAQM to get the state governments implement these measures. According to news reports, Haryana has to procure 1,313 new BS-VI diesel buses, Rajasthan 590, besides outsourcing services for 440, and UP 1,650. The three state governments reportedly have informed the CAQM that the procurement of CNG buses and EVs, as per their respective EV policies, is underway.

This is easier said than done. The CAQM was earlier this month forced to extend the deadline of the conversion for the diesel generator sets to duel fuel. Despite the advance CAQM directive, the state governments, under the pressure from the industry lobbies, convinced the central body to extend the deadline.

The CAQM probably conceded because the diesel generator sets are also used in a big manner in the multi-storey housing societies of the national capital region. The industrial bodies used the RWAs as a kind of ‘human shield’ to have their way and despite the extension, they are still pushing to avoid the inevitable under some pretext or other.

There also is the problem of the availability of clean fuel. In the areas neighbouring the national Capital like Ghaziabad and Noida, the supplier Indraprastha Gas Limited, has been proving unequal to the task of meeting deadlines of surveys and providing connection.

In addition to these, the supplier company is making no distinction between the commercial establishment and residential buildings in the financial terms. A body like the CAQM should intervene to ensure unnecessary exploitation of residential associations by the vending agencies both governmental and private sector.

 

The real challenge however awaits CAQM post-Diwali, which is less than three weeks away. Will the CAQM manage to prevail upon Haryana and Punjab governments to control stubble burning in their respective states? One would have to wait the three weeks’ time to know how effective have been the measures taken by the body.         

 

(First Published in The Morning Standard)

 

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