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A Journey From National Capital to Smog City: The Laws to Curb Urban Air Pollution

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Delhi’s battle with low air quality during the winter months is nothing new; it happens year after year. As winter swept in, another cloud of choking smoke and dust descended upon Delhi’s 20 million inhabitants, approaching “serious” or “emergency” thresholds across the city. Last year, air pollution levels exceeded all safety thresholds, prompting the government to declare a public health emergency. India enacted an air quality control law almost 40 years ago. However, as northern India faces yet another air quality crisis, it is yet another year of confrontation for a rule that has been largely ignored.

The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1981 seeks to assist with “air quality management and environment protection.” It was adopted in order for India to fulfill its promises made at the United Nations Environment Conference in 1972. This law gave state and municipal governments unprecedented authority to increase air quality, enforce pollution control regulations, and imprison polluters.

However, the law’s importance has waned over time, even as Indian cities have risen to the top of global air pollution assessments, the most recent of which is the State of Global Air 2020. Northern Indian states have filed almost no lawsuits under the Air Act in recent years, even though they experience the worst emissions every winter. Both the Supreme Court and legislatures have disregarded the law; initiatives such as the Graded Response Action Plan and the Odd-Even scheme, relying on other rules or legislation, both of which have little to do with the environment.

Particulate Matter Levels in Delhi and the Contributing Factors to  Extreme Air Quality

A country like India faces an extreme level of air pollution every year in which almost 1.24 million people lose their lives. This is because, in Indian cities, the mean attentiveness Of Particular matter (PM) transcends Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) standards. Air pollution sources can be understood by constructing settlements on alleviation and dominance.

A study conducted by researchers from the University of Hyderabad, the India Meteorological Department (IMD), and the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Banaras Hindu University, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, Finland, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington. According to the report, South Asia has had significantly impaired air quality, with particulate matter less than 2.5 μm.

Pollution can be understood by using two methodologies i.e. Top-down and Bottom-up. These two methodologies adjunct each other in ascertaining and certifying the source apportionment analysis, this is the reason why both the methods should be used in a region. Many source apportionment surveys, such as CPCB 2010, IIT Kanpur 2016, TERI 2018, SAFAR 2018, have reported that Delhi is among the cities in India that have been surrounded by extreme air pollution for a long time.

To understand the factors responsible for pollution in Delhi, we need to look into the two main components i.e. PM10 and PM2.5 which are present in five major contributing sectors- Transport, Industries, Power Plants, Road Dust and Construction. The bottom-up method is used by an emission inventory to form the bedrock for a source apportionment study. 

The most significant contributor to PM2.5 in Delhi is the transportation industry, which accounts for 17.9% to 39.2% of total emissions. Road dust is another significant source of PM2.5, accounting for between 18.1 and 37.8% of the total. It’s also seen in PM10, with levels ranging from 35.6 percent to 65.9%, and it’s a big part of it.

According to SAFAR (2018), a significant number of factories contribute to PM2.5 emissions in the range of 25-250 tons per year in Delhi’s northern, eastern, and southeastern zones.

According to the different studies presented by the sources, Emission inventories are developed for different years ranging from 2007 to 2018.

  1. As stated by Guttikunda (2018), in the year 2018 in an area in NCT Delhi, the total PM10 emission load (kt/year) was 238.68 and the total PM2.5 emission load (kt/year) was 99.15.
  2. By TERI (2018), in the year 2016, during the winter and summer season, in Delhi, the total PM10 emission load (kt/year) was 67.49 and the total PM2.5 emission load (kt/year) was 31.99.
  3. By IIT Kanpur (2016), in the year 2013-2014, during the winter and summer season, in Delhi total PM10 emission load (kt/year) was 52.34 and the total PM2.5 emission load (kt/year) was 21.39.

Following the pandemic’s lockdown in Delhi, pollution levels dropped dramatically, and the air quality index returned to an acceptable level.  Previously, the cleanest day for Delhi’s air was September 29, 2019, when the AQI weighed 60, which is considered “satisfactory.” According to the Real-Time Air Quality Index, particulate matter (PM2.5) in Delhi fell from 165µg/m3on March 21, 2020, a level deemed unsafe for all, to 64µg/m3on March 29, 2020, a level considered moderate or suitable. This is a significant reduction in air pollution for Delhi, which typically has ‘poor’ to ‘severe’ air quality, with an AQI varying from 100 to 300, and even higher in the winter.

Smog Free Delhi? 

Delhi’s air quality starts worsening each year in October and a series of arguments start between the Centre and the State. On the 15th  of October, For the primary time in this season, when AQI was very poor, Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar stated that the benefaction of stubble burning was only 4% daily, an assertion that induced Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to question if stubble burning wasn’t the mainspring, then why did pollution rise within the city over the last few years. Air pollution in Delhi, and hence the whole Indo Gangetic Plains, can be a multi-faceted spectacle enthralled by a variety of causes. The weather and local climate would be one of the considerations.

The central government issued an ordinance on the 29th of October 2020, which was signed by the honorable President of India, to deal with the revolting pollution in Delhi and the NCR. The offender faces either a five-year jail sentence or a fine of one crore rupees, or both, under this ordinance. The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) was dissolved, and a 20-member committee was established as a result of this ordinance issued by the Ministry of Law and Justice. The commission now has the authority to take action against those who violate the current ordinance. The Union Minister indicated that the new ordinance would significantly reduce emissions in Delhi and, as a result, the NCR. However, the farmers of India have branded the ordinance as an act of revenge by the central government since it was enacted at a time when the farmers were cultivating paddy and expelling the spare by setting the hearth to the paddy residue.

The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 (Air Act) and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (Environmental Protection Act) are the two major laws in India that govern air pollution. 

Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981: The target of the Air Act 1981 is to preserve the standard of air and control pollution. Two boards are there i.e. Central Board and State Boards whose main purpose is to boost the standard of air and to forestall, control pollution within the country, to advise the govt. on any matter concerning the event of the standard of air and also the prevention, control or abatement of pollution, to plan and executed a program for the prevention, assemble and bring out scientific and statistical details concerning pollution and also the estimate conceive for its effectual interception, control or lessening and prepare manuals, codes or guides regarding prevention, to urge down standards for the standard of air, to examine, the tiniest amount bit reasonable times, any control equipment, complex or manufacturing process and to administer, by order, such directions to such persons because it’s visiting consider necessary to wish steps for the prevention, control or abatement of pollution, to seem at pollution control areas at such intervals because it’d imagine necessary, assess the standard of air therein and take steps for the prevention, control or abatement of pollution in such areas.

Environment Protection Act, 1986: The Environment Protection Act came in 1986. The Department of Environment was established in 1980 in India. In 1985, it was converted into the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The target of this act is to wish appropriate steps for the protection and improvement of the environment and thus the prevention of hazards to kith and kin, other living creatures, plants, and properties. This act has defined “environment pollution” as the existence of any environmental toxic waste within the environment and “environment pollutant” as any solid, liquid, or gaseous substance existing in such mass as is additionally, or tends to be injurious to the environment. Similarly, chapter two deals with the last word power of the Central government. Central Government shall have the facility to want all such steps it thinks necessary for preserving and improving the standard of the environment and preventing and controlling environmental pollution, to ban and restrict the handling of a hazardous substance in numerous areas, to ban and, to hold out and sponsor investigations and research regarding problems of environmental pollution, to safeguard for the prevention of accidents which can cause environmental pollution and for providing for re-medical measures for such accidents, etc.

The Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority (EPCA) has directed Delhi and neighboring States to implement air pollution control measures under very poor and severe category air quality of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) from 15th October 2020. The Graded Response Action Plan is a series of actions designed to combat air pollution. This covers the Odd-Even Scheme, as well as the use of diesel generators and the shutdown of crushers. Despite these interventions, the air quality in the NCR has consistently remained POOR, according to recent news sources. The explanation for this could be heavily populated areas in Delhi, where the average fossil intake could render the ODD EVEN scheme obsolete. While this is a positive development, technical innovation and the use of renewable energy fuels should be encouraged.

Conclusion and Suggestions

According to a WHO survey of 1,650 world cities, the air quality in Delhi, India’s capital area is the lowest of any big city in the world. It also affects the areas around Delhi. According to the WHO, India has the highest mortality rate from chronic respiratory disorders and asthma. In Delhi, inadequate air quality permanently destroys the lungs of 2.2 million infants or half of the city’s population. Air pollution is believed to kill over 2 million people in India per year, making it the country’s fifth leading cause of death. The Supreme Court of India made remarks on the pollution in Delhi on November 25, 2019, saying, “Delhi has been worse than narak (hell).” The Centre for Science and the Environment conducted a review of air pollution legislation in 2016, concluding that the Air Act and the Environment (Protection) Act were “more than sufficient” for improving air quality. Youths must come together to take action to promote environmental stewardship. It is preferable to take preventative action before waste drowns the planet. People may begin to contribute to the preservation of the atmosphere by simply modifying their habits, which are the source of emissions.

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