Delhi’s air quality remained in “severe” zone for the third consecutive day on Thursday as slow wind speed facilitated accumulation of pollutants, once gain putting under the scanner measures taken by authorities to mitigate the public health crisis that has become an annual occurrence every winter.
The conditions led several experts to question what the newly formed Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) in Delhi-NCR had achieved in mitigating the crisis, and what it was doing differently from the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority, or EPCA, that it effectively replaced.
Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data showed that the 24-hour average air quality index (AQI) of Delhi stood at 423 at 4pm on Thursday, marginally better than Wednesday’s 433 but worse than Tuesday’s 418. Before this, Delhi’s air quality last touched the “severe zone” on December 5, when the 24-hour average AQI was 404.
In several air quality monitoring stations in Delhi, including those in RK Puram, Alipur, ITO, Rohini, Okhla Phase-II, Bawana, Mundka and Anand Vihar, the average AQI remained over 450 on Thursday.
Neighbouring satellite towns such as Ghaziabad (440), Noida (441) and Faridabad (408), too, recorded severely polluted air during the day, while the air in Gurugram (361) was “very poor”.
An AQI of 201 to 300 is considered “poor”. A reading of 301 to 400 is in “very poor” category and associated with respiratory illnesses, especially in children and those exposed to the bad air. An AQI of 400-500 is considered “severe”.
With the recent spike in pollution levels in Delhi-NCR, CAQM directed government agencies on Wednesday to ensure strict pollution control measures in the city were being followed. On the commission’s direction, CPCB has issued an order to keep hot mix plants and stone crushes shut till January 2.
The body — constituted on November 5 under an ordinance promulgated in October — also directed the Delhi Pollution Control Board (DPCC) and the city’s municipalities to step up enforcement by increasing water sprinkling and mechanised sweeping in their respective jurisdictions.
But experts said the formation of a commission will not help unless corrective measures are ensured.
“First, we had EPCA, which had not done much to ensure a holistic solution for the perpetual problem of pollution the northern India belt. Now this new commission is doing nothing different. It has been three days since Delhi and NCR (National Capital Region) towns are reeling under severe pollution, but there has been no proactive step from the commission apart from tokenism. We can make a hundred bodies, but what is the use if we continue to breathe dangerous levels of pollution,” said Sushmita Banerjee, an air pollution management and policy researcher.
CAQM chief MM Kutty did not respond to calls and messages till the filing of this report.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) forecast that after recording a minimum temperature of 4.5 degrees Celsius at the Safdarjung observatory on Thursday, the temperature is likely to increase by a few notches from Friday.