Pollution certificates to be made mandatory for refuelling vehicles
- A Pollution Under Control (PUC) certificate will soon be made mandatory for refueling at petrol pumps in Delhi.
- The government will issue a draft notification in this regard and invite suggestions from the public on it.
- Vehicle owners will be required to carry the PUC certificate to the pump. If it is found to be invalid, it will have to be reissued.
- The government is also considering methods to implement the policy, including radio frequency identification (RFID) to check PUC certificates in order to avoid queues at pumps.
- North India, including Delhi, faces grave air pollution, particularly in winter.
- With this policy in place, vehicles will be mandated to have their PUC certificate with them at the fuelling station.
- Pollution levels of every single vehicle will be kept in check from time to time.
- The policy will effectively help us ensure that polluting vehicles do not ply in Delhi and residents can enjoy cleaner air
Why does air pollution rise in October each year?
- Withdrawal of Monsoon: October usually marks the withdrawal of monsoons in Northwest India. During monsoons, the prevalent direction of the wind is easterly. These winds, which travel from over the Bay of Bengal, carry moisture and bring rains to this part of the country.
- Once monsoon withdraws, the predominant direction of winds changes to northwesterly.
- During summers, too, the direction of the wind is northwesterly and storms carry dust from Rajasthan and sometimes Pakistan and Afghanistan.
- According to a peer-reviewed study conducted by scientists at the National Physical Laboratory, 72 percent of Delhi’s wind in winters comes from the northwest, while the remaining 28 percent comes from the Indo-Gangetic plains.
- Dip in temperature: Along with the change in wind direction, the dip in temperatures is also behind the increased pollution levels.
- As temperature dips, the inversion height — which is the layer beyond which pollutants cannot disperse into the upper layer of the atmosphere – is lowered. The concentration of pollutants in the air increases when this happens.
- Wind speed: High-speed winds are very effective at dispersing pollutants, but winters bring a dip in wind speed overall as compared to summers.
- The combination of these meteorological factors makes the region prone to pollution.
- When factors such as farm fires and dust storms are added to the already high base pollution levels in the city, air quality dips further.
Role of farm fires
- Farm fires have been an easy way to get rid of paddy stubble quickly and at a low cost for several years.
- With the use of combine harvesters, the practice became more common as the harvester leaves behind tall stalks, which have to be removed before replanting.
- But the practice gained widespread acceptance starting 2009, when the governments of Punjab and Haryana passed laws delaying the sowing of paddy.
- The aim of passing this law was to conserve groundwater as the new sowing cycle would coincide with monsoons and less water would be extracted.
- This, however, left very little time for farmers to harvest paddy, clear fields and sow wheat for the next cycle.
- The paddy straw and stalks have high silica content and are not used to feed livestock.
- The easiest, but the least productive, way to get rid of it is to set it on fire.
- Over the past 11 years, the practice has thrived despite efforts made by the Centre and state governments primarily because the alternatives, like the happy seeder machine which helps mulch the residue, are seen as unavailable, and money and time consuming by smaller farmers.
- A 2015 source-apportionment study on Delhi’s air pollution conducted by IIT-Kanpur also states that 17-26% of all particulate matter in Delhi in winters is because of biomass burning.
- Over the years, the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) has developed a system to calculate the contribution of stubble burning to Delhi’s pollution.
- The stubble burning season is around 45 days long. Air in Delhi, however, remains polluted till February.
Other big sources of pollution in Delhi
- Dust pollution: Dry cold weather means dust is prevalent in the entire region, which does not see many rainy days between October and June.
- Dust pollution contributes to 56% of PM 10 and the PM2.5 load at 59 t/d, the top contributors being road 38 % of PM 2.5 concentration, the IIT Kanpur study said.
- Vehicular pollution: It is the second biggest cause of pollution in winters.
- According to the IIT Kanpur study, 20 % of PM 2.5 in winters comes from vehicular pollution.
- Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels: There is a significant increase in the amount of NO2 in the air during November compared to October and September. NO2 comes entirely from combustion sources and significantly, from vehicles.
Government initiatives to safeguard the environment
- In October 2020, the Supreme Court appointed a one-man committee, Justice Lokur Committee, to monitor and curb the occurrences of stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh.
- Graded Response Action Plan: Delhi launched a ‘Graded Response Action Plan’ under directions from the Supreme Court.
- NCAP: Launched in 2019, the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) aimed at a long-term, time-bound, national-level strategy to tackle the air pollution problem across the country in a comprehensive manner with targets to achieve a 20 percent to 30 percent reduction in particulate matter concentrations by 2024, keeping 2017 as the base year.
- Green Skill Development program: Launched in 2017 by the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change under PM Narendra Modi, the Green Skill Development program aims to introduce innovative skills among the youth working in the environment and forest sector.
- Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act (CAMPA): One of the most robust legal acts aiming to hold those, who exploit natural resources and forests for the development of industries, responsible. The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act was introduced in 2016.
- Namami Gange program: In 2014, PM Narendra Modi, considering the environmental value of the river Ganga, launched the Namami Gange program. The Centre allocated a total of Rs 20,000 crore to conserve and rejuvenate the river.
- Nagar Van Scheme: Nagar Van Scheme was launched on the occasion of World Environment Day in 2020 (5th June). It aims to develop 200 Urban Forests across the country in the next five years.
- Over the years, governments have taken several steps to address pollution from vehicles.
- Red Light On, Gaadi Off campaign was an initiative by the Delhi Government that ran in Oct-Nov 2020 under which commuters driving vehicles were urged to switch off their vehicle engines while waiting for the green light at traffic lights.
- Anti-smog guns and smog towers are installed and used in the city.
- The introduction of BS-VI (cleaner) fuel, push for electric vehicles, Odd-Even as an emergency measure, and construction of the Eastern and Western Peripheral Expressways are all part of the effort to reduce vehicular pollution.
- Prevention of stubble burning is a key component of reducing air pollution in the Delhi NCR area.
- The subsidy is provided to the farmers for procuring the Turbo Happy Seeder, which is a machine fitted on tractors that can cut and uproot stubble and eliminates the need to burn stubble.
- The ICAR has also come up with the PUSA Decomposer, which is a capsule that can be used to make a spray which when sprayed on crop residue hastens its decomposition.
Environmental Management in India
- The Indian Parliament has enacted several laws to protect and improve the environment.
- Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972
- Water (prevention and control of pollution) Act, 1974
- The forest (Conservation) Act, 1989
- The air (prevention and control of pollution) Act,1981
- The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986
- In addition the Constitution (forty-two amendments) of the Act, 1976 included two important provisions namely: Article 48-A, Article 51A (g)
- Reducing air pollution in the national capital is a pressing need for which both the governments and the citizens should play their part.
- The government should enforce all the legislations necessary and see to it, and they are properly implemented.
- Citizens should comply with the laws and regulations and do their part as well. Afforestation measures should be encouraged.
- Renewable energy sources should be adopted more and the usage of electric vehicles encouraged, for which the necessary infrastructure should also be built.
- Farmers should also be provided with viable alternatives to stubble burning.
- The situation needs better coordination between states, and afterward, city and regional-level pollution control plans need to be drawn up.
- Not only Delhi, but other states also need to get more serious and not treat high levels of pollution as a normal part of winter.