Toxic smog continued to envelop in Delhi

Toxic smog continued to envelop Delhi on Wednesday, even as the Centre and Delhi governments scrambled to adopt a slew of desperate measures to mitigate the pollution, which has been spiraling out of control since the past two weeks.

Smoggy conditions prevailed over the national capital restricting the visibility to 1,000 metres at around 8.30 am as Delhiites braved another smoggy day.
Kejriwal holds ‘cordial meet’ with Khattar but will that help?

As Delhi chocked on filthy air, Kejriwal could finally hold his much-touted discussions with Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar after a brief twitter squabble over scheduling the meeting. Punjab, the third state whose actions have an effect on Delhi’s air quality has so far ignored Kejriwal’s requests to meet.

Kejriwal held a nearly 90-minute meeting at Khattar’s residence in Chandigarh and it primarily centred around air pollution and stubble burning that is a major contributory factor to smog. A joint statement was issued after the meeting, in which their environment ministers and other top officials also participated.

“We the chief ministers of Delhi and Haryana are happy to have had a very fruitful meeting at Chandigarh today. We recognised our deep and shared concern over the recent episode of heavy smog in our National Capital Region. We agreed upon the need for action on many measures aimed at preventing its re-occurrence in the winter of 2018,” according to the statement.

However, until and unless long-term holistic measures aren’t planned to curb the issue, it is unlikely that the two chief ministers’ meeting will change much on ground. The meeting was more of an attempt to appear to be doing something as the Haryana and Delhi chief ministers were seen squabbling on twitter. As this article in DNA points out, without Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh and Centre’s participation in the dialogue process – along with serious measures to curb pollutants all around the year in all three states – nothing but perhaps perception will change.

Weather at a glance

The air quality of the city again dipped on Wednesday, after Tuesday’s slight improvement, even though it remained outside the previously recorded ‘severe plus’ category.

The 24-hour average air quality index (AQI) of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) was 361, which still falls in the ‘very poor’ category with real-time monitors indicating the maximum levels of PM2.5 touched 450- as compared to Tuesday when it was 308, the best in a week. To give a sense of just how bad is “very poor”, the “safe levels” of the hazardous PM2.5 is 60 and anything beyond is labelled hazardous.

The meteorological department said that the minimum temperature settled at 13.2 degree Celsius, while the humidity oscillated between 95 and 45 percent. The maximum temperature was recorded at 27.7 degrees Celsius. The Met office has forecast clear skies for Thursday along with mist in the morning.

The visibility was recorded at 1,500 metres at 5.30 am, which dropped to 1,000 meters at 8.30 am leading to cancellation of seven trains and rescheduling of nine. According to the Indian Railways, 26 trains were delayed, nine rescheduled and seven cancelled.

Update on the pollution control measures

Since the air quality remained outside the ‘severe plus’ category, emergency measures such ban on construction and entry of trucks may be lifted on Thursday if the trends prevail. However, there might be a dip in quality and the Air Quality Index may settle in the upper side of ‘very poor’ from 17 November due to meteorological conditions including a fall in temperature and entry of moisture.

The Delhi Fire Services carried out water sprinkling from the 22-storey high Vikas Minar at ITO in the afernoon for about an hour.

The Delhi government’s petition to the NGT on odd-even, seeking a review of its order withdrawing the exemptions given to two-wheelers and three-wheelers, will also come up before the tribunal on Thursday. The fresh petition has also sought a direction from the NGT that the neighbouring states should also be asked to implement the scheme.

The parking fees in areas falling under the South Delhi Municipal Corporation, which were quadrupled a week ago, will now be restored to the previous rates from Thursday.

The North and East Delhi corporations, however, said, they will continue with the revised rates.

Centre prepones roll-out of BS-VI fuel; auto industry says difficult to keep deadline

Desperate times, desperate measures. Battling a depleting air quality in the national capital, the Central government has decided to prepone the introduction of BS-VI grade fuel to 1 April 2018 instead of the earlier deadline of 1 April 2020.

The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas is also mulling to introduce the BS-VI auto fuels in the whole of National Capital Region, which includes Gurugram and Noida, by 1 April 2019.

However, the auto industry said that it is not in a position to launch vehicles complying with the strict emission norm before April 2020.

Although, the government hasn’t changed the deadline for launch of BS-VI engine vehicles – which is on 1 April 2020 – automobile manufacturers fear that they may be later forced by either a quasi-judicial body like the National Green Tribunal or the government to either prepone the roll-out of the vehicles or halt sales of old vehicles altogether.

“No manufacturer has BS-VI-ready vehicles for launch in India across any segments. There is no way any manufacturer will be able to sell BS-VI vehicles next year. Every manufacturer is bending its back to meet the (April 1) 2020 deadline,” an official from a Delhi-based manufacturer, told Moneycontrol.

RTI reveals crores of fund collected as environmental cess lying unused

Authorities in Delhi have over Rs 1,500 crore, collected as green fund to combat air pollution, lying largely unused, even as the national capital struggles to ward off the toxic haze.

The lion’s share of the amount – Rs 1,003 crore (till 10 November) – comes from an Environment Compensation Charge (ECC) imposed by the Supreme Court in 2015 on trucks entering Delhi while the rest is made up of cess on every litre of diesel sold, in effect since 2008. When contacted by PTI, a senior transport department official of the Delhi government said that a decision to use the fund to subsidise the procurement of electric buses has been taken only on Tuesday.

However, it could not be immediately confirmed as to how many electric buses the government is planning to buy and the amount required to do so.

Meanwhile, AAP has blamed the BJP-led central government for the unused funds. AAP chief spokesperson Saurabh Bharadwaj said the party never said the Delhi government had a shortage of funds.

“Though the government wanted to purchase buses, the central government did not allot land for bus depots,” he said. He said the government had approached the central government for permission for aerial sprinkling of water to control pollution and was even ready to spend on it.

Study reveals air pollution second largest cause for health loss in India 

According to a Lancet Journal report, outdoor air pollution was responsible for six percent of the total disease burden in India in 2016. Disease burden due to air pollution remained high in India between 1990 and 2016, as it caused non-communicable and infectious diseases like cardiovascular, respiratory diseases and infections, it said.

Besides this, another study published in the Journal of Indian Pediatrics said that children growing up in polluted environments of the national capital have reduced lung growth compared to the children in developed countries like the US.

While both Indian and US children have nearly the same size till the age of about eight years when the lungs complete their normal physical growth, subsequent growth show progressive difference between the two countries.

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