Delhi’s air quality turned ‘severe’, on November 12, 2018, as the pollution level increased due to unfavourable meteorological conditions, even as the Supreme Court-appointed EPCA directed authorities to allow construction only during the daytime and not charge toll from heavy vehicles stationed at the Delhi border. It permitted construction activities only during the daytime, from 6 AM to 6 PM, due to poor dispersion of pollutants at night.
The Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) warned that if the air quality in Delhi continued to deteriorate, then, it would impose a complete ban on the use of non-CNG private, as well as commercial vehicles. The EPCA also allowed entry of only those vehicles into the city, which are stranded at Delhi borders, anticipating the situation getting out of hand with the owners of over a 1,000 trucks getting ‘restive’, while asserting that they will be exempt from paying toll or Environment Compensation Charge (ECC) from 11 pm on November 12 to 7 am on November 13. They said by relaxing the payment of toll-ECC, the trucks can move without any stop and this will reduce congestion and reduce pollution.
The EPCA, however, stated that ‘no new trucks’ will be allowed to enter the national capital, in the wake of the deteriorating air quality. The Delhi Police will increase their manpower at all entry points, to ensure that there is no congestion. “We will continue this restriction so that there is large scale diversion of trucks on the Western and Eastern Expressways and other roads,” an EPCA letter stated.
Meanwhile, Delhi’s environment minister Imran Hussain called a meeting with authorities and asked them to control local sources of pollution. EPCA chairman Bhure Lal, in a letter to chief secretary of Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, said vehicle stickers had not been implemented and without this, it was not possible to distinguish between diesel and other fuelled vehicles. “In the scenario that the weather remains adverse and that the current situation of air quality remains in the ‘very poor’ or ‘severe’ categories, then, there is no option but to direct for a complete stop on the use of private and commercial vehicles, other than those plying on CNG, so that pollution can be contained,” Lal said in the letter. “However, CNG vehicles have stickers and also, it is understood that all public transport vehicles are fuelled by CNG. In this situation, these vehicles will be available for movement,” he said.
The ban on the entry of heavy vehicles was imposed from November 8 till November 11, 2018 but was later extended by a day by the Supreme Court-appointed agency, on the recommendations of a Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)-led task force, which reviews the national capital’s air quality. Over 2,200 vehicles were returned from Delhi’s borders during the four-day restriction from November 8 to November 12, a senior traffic police official said.
According to the CPCB, the overall air quality index (AQI) in the national capital was recorded at 406, which falls in the ‘severe’ category. The PM2.5 (particles in the air with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres) level on November 12, 2018, was recorded at 263 while the PM10 (particles in the air with a diameter of less than 10 micrometres) was recorded at 457.
Nineteen areas in Delhi recorded ‘severe’ air quality while 17 areas showed ‘very poor’ air quality, the CPCB said, adding that Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Greater Noida and Noida recorded ‘severe’ air quality, while Gurugram showed improvement with the AQI being in the ‘moderate’ category.
An AQI between 0 and 50 is considered ‘good’, 51 and 100 ‘satisfactory’, 101 and 200 ‘moderate’, 201 and 300 ‘poor’, 301 and 400 ‘very poor’ and 401 and 500 ‘severe’. Satellite images by centre-run System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting (SAFAR) showed moderate stubble burning that is contributing to seven per cent pollution at PM2.5 in Delhi. Authorities have attributed the dip in air quality to unfavourable weather conditions, such as low wind speed. The SAFAR said the situation is likely to improve further by November 13, 2018, but will remain in the ‘very poor’ category. “The stubble-related impact continues to remain nominal, due to slow transport-height winds,” it said.