As winter sets in, Delhi is set to witness rising air pollution levels. The lack of effective implementation of the Supreme Court’s order on green tax collection from trucks not bound for Delhi, stubble burning in states like Haryana and Punjab despite the ban by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and unchecked vehicular pollution in Delhi NCR (national capital region), are thought to be the main reasons. Every day, thousands of trucks that are not bound for Delhi, have been using Delhi roads as their transit point, contributing to a large chunk of particulate matter (PM) into Delhi’s air. However, the green tax that the Supreme Court levied upon them is not being implemented with seriousness by the local municipal bodies in Delhi. 

According to eyewitnesses at several entry points in Delhi, many such trucks go unnoticed or are allowed to pass, by just paying half the green tax charge at the entry points in Delhi, while many trucks are just not checked at such entry points in the national capital or are allowed into the capital by just paying a small sum to the police. 

However, according to sources at the Municipal Corporation of South Delhi and North Delhi, the municipal bodies are working towards blocking the leakages in the tax collection system, as they are in the process of installation of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags at all entry points in Delhi.

Not only this, the burning of crop stubble, that has already started in the neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab, is also contributing to air pollution. Despite the NGT’s order on keeping a check on stubble burning, the state administrations have not been able to do much. 

The air quality in Delhi has already started to deteriorate, with the Air Quality Index (AQI) showing the level of pollutants in Delhi’s air at unhealthy levels at all times in the national capital and post Diwali, the Supreme Court’s ban on the sale of fire crackers has also not been able to act as a deterrent to curb air pollution in the city.

Though the number of firecrackers used on the night of Diwali seemed to be less than in previous years, the pollution level in the city rose 10 times the normal levels on the morning post Diwali, making the air hazardous and unfit for outdoor activities. Anumita Roychowdhury, Project Director at the Centre for Science and Environment, told The Sunday Guardian, “The governments of all the states should provide with do-able solutions both in terms of vehicular pollution as well as in terms of stopping stubble burning during winter. The governments also need to scale their policies in terms of ways to tackle air pollution as it directly impacts the children and the elderly.”

Little has been done to check dust pollution in Delhi. Vacuum cleaning that was supposed to be taken up on a proactive basis by the municipal corporations, have hardly been able to achieve any result. However, according to Anumita Roychowdhury, vacuum cleaning of roads is just one method to control dust. What the corporations are supposed to do is plant trees, check on construction waste and also have a proper plan in place to fight dust pollution. Last year, according to the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) report submitted to the Supreme Court (SC), the air quality post Diwali was worse than 14 times the normal AQI in Delhi. The air quality in Delhi was even worse than the “Great Smog of London” in 1952.

According to Roychowdhury, this year, a Graded Response Action Plan framed by the EPCA under the guidance of the apex court is in place to implement during an emergency when the AQI crosses the “Severe or Emergency” levels. The Graded Response Action Plan, which has been notified and has a legal sanctity, has come into effect from 17 October. According to the Plan, during the “Severe or Emergency” period, when the PM 2.5 and PM 10 crosses five times above the standard levels, entry of trucks to Delhi would be stopped, all construction activities would also be stopped, schools shut, the Odd-Even scheme would be implemented, diesel generators banned and parking fees would be increased 3-4 times, among other measures.

Since 17 October, as the AQI moved to unhealthy levels, diesel generators have already been banned, and the Badarpur power plant has been shut down to curb air pollution as mandated by the SC-monitored EPCA.

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