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Tackling Air Pollution is About Willingness, Says Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai

© AP Photo / Altaf QadriSmog envelopes the skyline in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020
Smog envelopes the skyline in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020 - Sputnik International, 1920, 13.10.2021
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Every year during winter, air quality in Delhi starts taking a dip. According to the Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government, three primary reasons for that are vehicular emissions, the burning of stubble, and atmospheric pressure.
Delhi was declared the world’s most polluted city for the third straight year in 2020 by IQAir, a Swiss group that measures air quality levels.
This year, the Delhi government has launched a winter action plan based on 10 focus points to prevent a dip in air quality.
Talking to Sputnik, Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai said that city pollution levels have been under control so far this year because the city government has been working persistently to prevent an air pollution emergency.
Sputnik: This is the first time that any government in the country has come up with a winter action plan against the annual winter pollution. What is its key point?
Gopal Rai: As we know, every year during winter, the pollution situation in Delhi deteriorates — the PM2.5 and PM10 level increases in the air. Our data for the past five years shows that there are three significant factors — vehicular emission, waste burning, and dust.
Every year during this season, farmers from the northern Indian states — Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, burn the residue of their paddy harvest. This is a cost-effective and time-saving measure to prepare the fields for the sowing of other crops.
However, the practice results in increased levels of air pollution in large areas of North India, especially New Delhi, which is followed by other uncontrollable factors like lower temperatures and wind speeds.
We have introduced bio-decomposer, a solution containing seven fungal species, on the crop residue, which will end the need to burn it. We launched the pilot project last year and this year on a full scale.
We have launched an anti-dust campaign, banned firecrackers, installed smog towers, and set up a green war room where 50 environmental engineers work round the clock and assist officials and people regarding pollution concerns.
We have also launched Green Delhi App, where citizens can lodge complaints related to pollution.
Sputnik: How satisfied are you as the Environment Minister with all the steps undertaken by your government?
Gopal Rai: Delhi shares a common air shed that extends up to 250 km with the neighbouring states, including Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab. Hence, the impact of pollution in the adjoining areas is witnessed in Delhi too.
The city suffers because of these states.
For example, all public transport in Delhi runs on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), which is an eco-friendly alternative. But the same rules are not complied with by border states. Similarly, firecrackers are banned in Delhi, but not in other states.
Many studies have said that 60 percent of PM2.5 pollution in Delhi originates from sources outside New Delhi.
We cannot sit idle.We are doing our best. Last year, we were able to bring the pollution levels down, and we are constantly talking to experts on measures to further reduce pollution in the city.
Sputnik: Why don't these steps remain in place throughout the year and gain prominence only when air quality becomes hazardous in September-October?
Gopal Rai: This is not true. Though we have been planning to handle the crisis, this year we have taken up both long and short-term measures.
Yes, we have intensified action because of the unique challenges during winters.
In August this year, the smog tower that was inaugurated, did not come up overnight. Our work on setting up a dedicated war room for pollution monitoring has also been going on for the past six months.
Apart from this, we have also worked on the e-vehicles policy, transplantation policy and plantation drives, which proves our government’s commitment to resolving this problem.
Sputnik: Last month, the federal government also held meetings with the officials of different states on an action plan to mitigate air pollution. What was discussed in the meeting?
Gopal Rai: One needs to understand that tackling a crisis like air pollution is more about willingness, it's not like a project about which an announcement is made. A lot of dedication is needed to curb problems like air pollution.
Tackling such a crisis needs round the clock monitoring, continuous steps, and if results are not met, then finding a new way out.
The central government last month held a meeting with all the north Indian states on how to handle stubble burning, but not much action has been taken on the ground.
The Delhi government cannot take action against these states, and only the central government can take strict action against them. We can only request.
We also urged the central government to ban firecrackers during Diwali (the festival of lights when people traditionally light firecrackers) across the neighbouring states. But, so far, no assurance has been made on the same.
Sputnik: The Delhi government also launched the Green Delhi App, where citizens can complain about violations of anti-pollution guidelines. You said that you received 27,000 complaints, any particular type of complaint that featured among them the most?
Gopal Rai: The app, which was launched last year, had some restrictions. But now it is available for everyone. Most of the complaints we received are related to garbage and illegal burning, such complaints are mostly resolved within an hour.
More than 90 percent of the complaints are resolved.
Sputnik: Do you see any psychological change among local people regarding the pollution-related concerns of authorities?
Gopal Rai: Definitely, Yes. People are becoming more sensitive towards such issues, they understand that this is an issue which concerns their family members and close ones.
We would have never received the 27,000 complaints if people had not become sensitive towards the pollution crisis. So, this is a really big achievement for us.
We are also going to launch a large-scale ‘Jan Bhagidari’ (Public Involvement) campaign in a few weeks to ensure public participation in our fight against pollution.
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