Lieutenant governor (LG) VK Saxena summoned an emergency meeting on the air pollution crisis, asking for efforts to be stepped up to control emissions, even as the discussions bore an undercurrent of the conflict between him and the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi.
The meeting, which also included the administrative brass, resulted in directions by the LG for localised interventions and for the government to issue an advisory urging at-risk people to remain indoors.
But friction that has been hampering the Capital’s functioning was apparent, with Saxena appealing to neighbouring states, especially AAP-ruled Punjab, to combat farm fires, and AAP minister Gopal Rai criticising the lack of cooperation from the administrative setup.
“It was decided to appeal to the neighbouring states, especially Punjab, which accounted for 1,921 (71.57%) incidents of stubble burning out of a total of 2,684 such events on 01.11.2023… Apart from Punjab, 99 cases of stubble burning were reported in Haryana, 95 in Uttar Pradesh and 60 in Rajasthan,” the LG office said.
Rai spoke to reporters after the meeting and said he has requested the LG to issue directions to officers to join the meetings called by the elected government and cooperate so that the decisions being taken can be implemented on the ground.
“The DPCC chairman (Ashwini Kumar) has stalled the smog tower and real-time source apportionment study (of Delhi) without any decision from the Cabinet… we have requested action against him,” he said.
Delhi, Rai added, “is surrounded by BJP-ruled governments, and we have requested that with their cooperation all the work should be executed”. “We have also requested that officers be instructed not to boycott the Delhi government and work together. We have requested that it should be taken seriously, and directions should be given to everyone to be active,” the environment minister said.
For his part, Saxena reiterated that the city needs to put in place a long-term plan of action, which will be implemented once the ongoing emergency is over.
A host of directions to mitigate the crisis — including the use of water sprinklers and anti-smog guns in double shifts — were also issued to control the situation.
“As part of the mitigation measures, all mechanised road sweepers, water sprinklers and anti-smog guns (static, mobile and those over high rises) will be optimally used, even in double shifts, if required,” the LG office said.
“The environment department will issue advisories for children and the elderly to take extra care and remain indoors as far as possible. An appeal will be made to people to remain indoors as far as possible, and avoid unnecessary travel to ensure lesser volume of traffic and reduced emissions,” the LG office added. The officers were directed to ensure that all measures under Grap were implemented on the ground.
The air emergency, which resulted in the air quality index at 4pm reaching 468, has prompted authorities to step up anti-pollution curbs in the city, setting into effect the third stage of the city’s Graded Response Action Plan (Grap).
The restrictions include a ban on the use of BS 3 petrol and BS 4 diesel vehicles, private constructions and demolitions (excluding non-polluting work like plumbing, interior decoration, electrical work and carpentry), and on the use of hot-mix plants.
Despite being in the “severe +” range, the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) said it decided not to invoke stage 4 measures as per the Grap, as they were “disruptive” in nature and the AQI had already begun to show a dipping trend. Earlier in the day Rai in a press conference said the Delhi government has formed teams to monitor the ban on construction work, adding that DPCC and revenue department officials will carry out regular inspections.
“As many as 345 water sprinkling machines and anti-smog guns are spraying water in Delhi and 2,400 trips of buses and 60 trips of Metro have been added to increase public transport services. Electric shuttle bus services have been started to reduce vehicle pollution,” Rai said, adding that the neighbouring states should also take strict steps to help curb air pollution. The minister said the Delhi government will run awareness campaigns on air pollution. “The transport department has deployed 84 teams while the Delhi Police has deployed 284 teams to check that banned vehicles do not ply. If anyone violates this, a fine of ₹20,000 will be imposed under the MV Act, 1988,” Rai said.