It’s quite amusing how even as people choke and suffer in Delhi’s polluted air, the politics and drama over seeming to do something carries on with so much gusto. The question remains: Where does all the concern disappear during the rest of the year or is that fogginess worse than the killer smog?
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Tuesday turned down the Delhi government’s plea to exempt women drivers and two-wheelers from the odd-even vehicle rationing scheme, saying there was “no logic” to the proposal.
The top green tribunal also asked the Delhi government to choose a spot in the city by 4 p.m. on Tuesday and sprinkle water from a helicopter on the area to know the efficacy of the step in reducing air pollution.
Rapping the Delhi government for its plea, the tribunal asked why should the exemption be given to two-wheelers when they are a major cause of pollution.
“On what basis are you asking exemption for two-wheelers,” NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar said.
On Delhi government counsel Tarunvir Singh Khehar raising the issue of women’s security, the tribunal said: “Why don’t you run Women’s Special buses?”
The tribunal also rapped the Delhi government over “delay” in the procurement of 4,000 additional buses and noted that sprinkling of water on pollution hotspots was not being done properly.
“Why don’t you act upon those who are responsible for pollution. How many people have you penalised or challaned so far,” Justice Kumar asked.
Following the tribunal’s order, the Delhi government withdrew its petition.
The tribunal said the Delhi government could move a fresh petition before it on the traffic rationing scheme.
It said Delhi government could use helicopters, if necessary, to sprinkle water at a pollution hotspot in the city to know its efficacy.
“Choose one place in Delhi by 4 p.m. and sprinkle water and thereafter calculate the particle pollution to know how much difference does it make,” the tribunal said.
The tribunal also allowed the National Highways Authority of India to go ahead with construction of the Delhi-Meerut Highway at the eastern periphery of the city but said there should be no dust pollution.
The Delhi government had on Saturday decided to halt the odd-even traffic restriction scheme, which was scheduled to be implemented from November 13 to 17. It moved the NGT on Monday with a review petition seeking exemptions for two-wheelers and women.
The national capital on Tuesday saw improvement in the air quality with six out of 15 regions recording “very poor” levels rather than “severe” for the first time in the past week.
With wind speed almost doubling as compared to last week and chances of drizzle in NCR and neighbouring states, the air quality is set to improve further, falling under “very poor” or “poor” category, experts said.
According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) the average AQI of Delhi-NCR was 398 while the major pollutant PM2.5 or particles with diameter less than 2.5mm recorded 397 units at 6 p.m. — considered “very poor”.
However, the average AQI of Delhi at 6 p.m. was 407 with PM2.5 at 406 units, considered “severe”.
This is considered an “improvement” as for past seven days since November 7, Delhi had been breathing toxic air with average AQI ranging between 460 to 500, on a scale of 0 to 500 and PM2.5 reached a dangerous 945 units at some places including Ghaziabad — 37 times the safe limit.
“Delhi is out of emergency but not out of danger. In the coming days by November 16 and 17, the conditions are expected to get better. Unfortunately, we are happy even though the air quality is very poor. In many countries there is an emergency-like condition at this air quality which we are cherishing as an improvement,” Usman Naseem, researcher at Centre for Science and Environment and member Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA), said.
According to data from System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR), six out of 10 monitoring stations across Delhi-NCR fell out of “severe” zone to “very poor”. However, Lodhi Road in Central Delhi, Delhi University North Campus, Ayanagar in South Delhi and Pitampura in North Delhi continue to be ‘severe’.
The most polluted region according to CPCB in Delhi-NCR includes Ghaziabad where at 6 p.m. the AQI was 471, Anand Vihar with AQI 458, Noida sector 125 with AQI 464 — all considered ‘severe’.
According to India Meteorological Department (IMD), the wind speed so far towards Delhi was 5 to 7 kmph coming from eastward, however, the wind speed had suddenly increased to 10 to 15 kmph from north-west which would help in dispersing the pollutants hanging in the air.
“There are fair chances of drizzling tonight or early morning on Wednesday, November 15 in parts of Haryana and Punjab. Since the winds are coming from there with good speed, the pollutant there would first settle due to rains, so the winds entering Delhi would be pure and then speed would disperse the smog here,” Charan Singh, chief weather forecast officer at IMD, said.
According to IMD, the improvement in air quality is also evident as the visibility increased from 200 meters last week to over 1,000 meters on Tuesday.
“The major reason for the emergency situation in Delhi was stubble burning. The winds coming from Punjab were carrying pollutants and then there was moisture coming from the east. Both winds collided at low height in Delhi causing smog. We do not see improvement,” Usman Naseem added.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed the authorities to restrict the number of pilgrims visiting the Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu and Kashmir to 50,000 a day, to avoid any mishap.
The Tribunal also ordered the opening of the new path for pedestrians from November 24. The new path for pedestrians and battery-operated vehicles was constructed at a cost of Rs 40 crore.
While directing the removal of mules or horses gradually from the old path as well, the NGT has asked Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board to prepare a rehabilitation plan to replace animals with battery-operated cars.
The bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar also asked the authorities to impose a fine of Rs 2,000 on anyone found littering the roads as well as the bus stop in the nearby Katra town.
“Stop the pilgrims at Ardhkuwari or Katra town if the total number exceeds 50,000,” Justice Swatanter Kumar said, observing that the Bhawan or the peak where the shrine is located, would not be able to accommodate more than 50,000 people a day.
Directing to form a committee to check excessive traffic in Katra town, the Tribunal also asked the authorities to stop all construction activities around the Bhawan. (IANS)