‘Emergency’ measures not implemented despite 8 days of ‘severe’ air in Delhi

CAQM adheres to rules that don’t take into account predictions of bad air quality

Despite Delhi’s air quality index (AQI) being “severe” for eight out of 10 days after Deepavali, measures under the “emergency” category of the Supreme Court-ordered Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) to control air pollution were not implemented by the authorities. The air quality after Deepavali is the worst in years.

“Emergency” steps were not taken as the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas, which has the authority to order measures under GRAP, stuck to the rules that do not consider predictions of deteriorating air quality.

In the past, measures under GRAP have been implemented differently from the rules, based on predictions of a spike in pollution.

On Saturday, the Supreme Court pulled up the Centre and the State Governments for the rising air pollution and later in the day, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced closure of schools and a ban on construction activities.

These two measures are also part of the list under the “emergency” category of GRAP, but the CM’s announcement was separate.

The CM doesn’t have the authority to impose GRAP, as per rules.

“Like in the past, GRAP should have been implemented as a preventive and pre-emptive measure. We cannot wait for the smog to be over to take action. The purpose of it is lost in that case,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment.

The chairman and member secretary of the CAQM did not respond to calls or messages seeking comment.

An official privy to the development said, “There was a prediction, but it was also not as bad as what happened after Deepavali. Also, implementing ‘emergency’ measures is not an easy call as a lot of people will lose their work on the days they are imposed.”

How GRAP works

GRAP is a set of measures to be taken to reduce air pollution depending on the current level. It was notified by the Union Environment Ministry in 2017 to fight air pollution, based on the SC directions.

Actions under the “emergency” category of GRAP include stopping of construction activities, shutting down of schools, and the odd-even vehicle rationing scheme.

As per the CAQM, the “emergency” measures under GRAP were not imposed after Deepavali this year, as the criteria as per rules were not met.

GRAP is implemented depending upon the level of PM2.5 and PM10, which are fine inhalable particles, and not the AQI.

After Deepavali, PM2.5 was above 300µg/m3, which is the “threshold” for only 46 hours during November 11-13, official data shows. To implement “emergency” measures under GRAP, it has to remain above the threshold for 48 hours, as per rules.

But in the past, the implementation of GRAP has been done not exactly as per rules, but based on predictions of air quality as well.

For instance, on October 8 last year, when the AQI was “poor”, measures under the “very poor/severe” category were announced to kick in from October 15, according to an official order.

This was done in anticipation of the AQI worsening, a week in advance.

Ms. Roychowdhury said the Government should also consider forecasts of air quality to implement GRAP measures rather than waiting for the air to be “severe” for days at a stretch.

“Why have we developed forecasting systems? To take actions, right? So, these forecasts should be made part of the criteria to invoke GRAP,” she said.

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