The Union Environment Ministry notified a ‘Graded Response Action Plan’ against air pollution for Delhi and the National Capital Region.
The plan puts governments under the lens and holds out the promise of improvement in air quality.
A graded response lays down stratified actions that are required to be taken as and when the concentration of pollutants, in this case particulate matter, reaches a certain level.
At the level of 100 microgrammes per cubic metre of PM 2.5, for example, mechanised sweeping and water-sprinkling along roads has to start. Traffic police personnel have to ensure smooth flow of traffic, and all pollution control measures that are already in place — such as stopping landfill fires, and enforcing Pollution Under Control (PUC) norms and a ban on firecrackers — have to be imposed strictly.
The graded action plan will be implemented if PM2.5 levels stay over 300 micrograms per cubic metre and PM10 levels stay above 500 micrograms per cubic metre.
The Delhi specific comprehensive action plan was prepared by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
The new graded response action plan has proposed stratified levels of action according to the air pollution levels classified by air quality index, which range from moderate to poor to very poor to severe to severe+ or emergency.
The measures in the action plan are cumulative and add up to the highest level, which is severe+ or emergency.
Additional action can be proposed if pollution levels demand higher level of stringency. Decision to shut schools will be taken as per the need of the hour.
The plan was prepared by the Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA)
The job of ensuring implementation of the action plan will be EPCA’s under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, which will delegate the responsibility to the concerned departments.
The concentration of pollutants will be communicated to EPCA by a task force that will primarily comprise officials from the respective pollution control boards and India Meteorological Department. This will be an average for the entire city.
The job of ensuring implementation of the action plan will be EPCA’s, which will delegate the responsibility to the concerned departments. According to EPCA’s report, at least 16 agencies will have to work together to implement the various parts of the plan.
These include the municipal corporations of all NCR towns, the traffic police, police, transport departments, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, Delhi Transport Corporation, Resident Welfare Associations, Public Works Departments and Central Public Works Department, Chief Controller of Explosives, and the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation. Each body has been set a task that it will have to carry out when EPCA asks it to, based on the concentration of pollutants.
Beijing and Paris, most notably, have implemented graded action plans over the past few years. Paris recently implemented the odd-even road rationing scheme when PM 2.5 levels crossed 95 µg/m³. It also made public transport free to encourage people to leave their vehicles at home.