5th November – To mitigate air pollution, look beyond tokenism

The odd-even scheme is an out-of-the-box idea with unproven claims on containing AQI levels. It is though a terrific concept (like the laser light display touted as a replacement for crackers this Diwali) to focus attention on air pollution, especially that caused by automobiles.

The issue –

For three years now, the National Capital Region (NCR) has seen the pollution saga play out every winter; while some politicians can take solace in the marginal fall in AQI levels even though it stays in hazardous territory, the reality is that if something is not done urgently then NCR will soon become unliveable in the six months beginning October-November.

Understanding the problem –

  • The NCR pollution problem is partly because of the nature of its topography. It is shaped like a saucer and hence is hugely dependent on a cross breeze—which serves it for most of the year, except in winter—to keep its AQI under control; exactly why the stubble burning that happens in the early part of the year does not harm Delhi as much. The obvious inference is that mitigation efforts have to be that much more to make up for this handicap.
  • Further, vehicular pollution, the gorilla in the room, has been growing very sharply. As previously pointed out in this column the emissions of particulate matter (PM) by automobiles have surged by 40% in eight years ended 2018; according to the Economic Survey put out by the Delhi government, there were 10.9 million vehicles in NCR at the end of 2018.

Solution –

  • Experts have long been making a case for public transport. The assumption among policy planners is that the Metro Rail, an extremely capital-intensive option which nonetheless has been critical in addressing transport woes of NCR’s working population, especially women, is the best solution. If dovetailed with a robust public bus network it will undoubtedly magnify the gains; unfortunately this is not the case.
  • Similarly, focus on building and maintaining good roads (which at the moment are mostly in neglect) and actually implementing laws to ensure only road-worthy vehicles ply, could go a long way in mitigation. Remember every time you brake to avoid a pothole and then accelerate your emissions are that much more.
  • Finally, the ultimate stakeholders, the residents of Delhi, have to force a public debate. With elections around the corner, this may well be a good time to get our elected politicians to commit to a timeline to contain pollution in the city.

Conclusion –

The only freebie that matters is clear air; and our politicians who always aver the cause of the poor should remember that like income inequality pollution is hardest on those at the bottom of the pyramid.


QUESTIONThe pollution levels in Delhi reach beyond the tolerable limits. Examine the factors responsible for it and suggest solutions for the same.

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