Delhi is currently grappling with severe air pollution, with PM 2.5 levels consistently remaining in the hazardous zone for several days. In response, the state government has implemented various measures to address the pollution issue, which typically worsens during the winter months due to temperature inversion and the absence of strong winds. These measures include keeping schools closed even after the ongoing Diwali holidays, requiring government offices to operate with 50% of staff working from home, and the upcoming Odd-Even scheme that will restrict the use of private four-wheelers on the roads starting from November 13.
Air Quality in Delhi:
On Tuesday morning, the Air Quality Index (AQI) in Delhi was categorized as “very poor” with a reading of 394. The concentration of PM2.5, a fine particulate matter that can deeply penetrate the respiratory system and pose health risks, exceeded government-prescribed safe limits by seven to eight times. It was also 30 to 40 times higher than the healthy limit set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Major Pollution Sources:
Vehicular emissions and industrial emissions are the primary contributors to Delhi’s air pollution. Vehicular emissions account for approximately 25-30% of PM 2.5 in the city, making them a significant factor. Other major sources of pollution include industrial emissions and farm fires, with the latter being linked to the burning of crop residues in neighboring states like Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan.
Gaps in Pollution Control:
Despite the government’s efforts to combat pollution, there are gaps in Delhi’s pollution management strategy. For instance, there is a shortage of air monitoring stations and qualified staff. Measures like the Odd-Even scheme have demonstrated limited efficacy in reducing harmful emissions, according to Sachchida Nand Tripathi, an IIT Kanpur Professor and Member of the Steering Committee of the National Clean Air Program.
Tripathi suggests implementing hyper-local pollution monitoring by installing more sensors across the city. He also recommends recruiting more scientists, engineers, and qualified personnel for the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC).
Collaboration with Neighbors: Delhi’s pollution is not solely a local issue; it extends beyond the city’s borders. Farm fires in neighboring states and other sources of pollution significantly impact Delhi’s air quality. Experts suggest adopting an “airshed” approach, involving states like Punjab, Rajasthan, and Haryana to implement similar measures that Delhi has been taking.
Emission Reduction by OEMs:
Some original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are proactively addressing pollution concerns. Maruti Suzuki India aims to have a largely green portfolio by 2030-31, with various clean fuel vehicles, battery electric vehicles, strong hybrids, CNG, and CBG-powered vehicles.
Ashok Leyland is working on product decarbonization and alternative fuel trucks, along with electric vehicles under the ‘Boss’ range.
Tata Motors has showcased hydrogen fuel cell buses and is selling electric light commercial vehicles.
Altigreen offers battery-electric three-wheelers for urban transport, while several electric two-wheelers are available in the market.
SUN Mobility advocates for commuters to switch to electric vehicles and provides battery-swapping solutions with over 400 swap stations in Delhi-NCR.
Improvements in Public Transport:
Anumita Roy Chowdhury, Executive Director (research & advocacy) for the Centre for Science and Environment, highlights inadequacies in Delhi’s public transport system as another gap in pollution control. Despite a Supreme Court directive from 1998 to have at least 10,000 buses, the city currently has only 7,041 buses (including 902 electric ones).
Roy Chowdhury emphasizes the need for improving the service levels across the bus network, integrating the metro and bus systems, and enhancing last-mile connectivity to encourage greater use of public transport in Delhi.