The LexGaze Weekly - COVER STORY

An asphyxiating capital: The Saga Continues

Ms Divya Bist

Nov 01, 2020

Issue 20

It was a few weeks ago when Delhi’s AQI was within safe limits, although it had peaked in 2017 with over 999 AQI in certain parts of the Capital Region. The pandemic put a halt on all transportation and industrial activities, which allowed residents the opportunity to breathe the cleanest air Delhi has had within the last few decades. I will not get into the negative health effects air pollution can have on the citizens of Delhi because this subject has been addressed numerous times. We all are well aware of it, so I will take this opportunity to explore the concerns within and beyond Delhi’s air quality.

Climate change is a concern that has been addressed numerous times and yet, has failed to be accurately  dealt with. Over recent years, notable scientists, conservationists, businesses, celebrities and on rare occasions, politicians (surprisingly) have reached out to make people more conscientious about their  surroundings and the impact their  actions have. That said, the collective impact of human development and technology on the environment has been two faceted. Over the last 30 years, humans have seen the greatest technological advancements, while also witnessing rapidly increasing temperatures, catastrophic natural disasters, week long bush-fires, incessant loss of flora & fauna and degradation of essential natural resources like freshwater, riverine pollution, marine pollution, air pollution , soil erosion and degradation, which have all resulted in habitat destruction of wild species that are dependent on these resources for survival. While humans continue to disconnect from nature, we are still completely and inevitably dependent on the Earth’s mighty bounty. In November 2015, 197 countries agreed to limit the temperature increase to 1.50C but the individual country targets were not ambitious enough to yield and achieve the terms of the Paris Agreement. India’s NDC target is to achieve 40-43% non-fossil fuel generation capacity for electricity by 2030, which will easily be achieved, seeing our current trajectory, which shows that we have opted for unambitious targets, and we could have pledged higher as a nation.

Industrial and vehicular carbon emissions have been the largest contributors to the debilitating air quality of Delhi not just when outdoors, but even the level of pollution indoors has been observed over the years through countless researchers.  The “AQI” is something that all Dilli–walas are now well versed with. Despite seeing blue skies and breathing clean air during the pandemic shut-down, Delhi’s air quality is back to square one with the harvest season, with large-scale paddy/stubble burning followed by the festive season. With this comes the annual blame game about who is responsible for the condition of Delhi.  The Delhi High Court has been actively seeking judicial remedies to reduce the pollution predicament . For example ,  in 2019, selling of firecrackers was banned, but it showed the shortsighted decision making, which may appease the general public in the name of environmental protection but misses the mark on actually contributing positively to the reduction of air pollution.

Governance in Delhi to reduce pollution has been going on for ages, starting by the introduction of unleaded petrol, BS III and IV standard for car manufacturers, CNG for public as well as private transportation, compulsory PUC with hefty fines on non-compliance, incentivizing EVs, ban on vehicles older than 10 years for diesel, and 15 years for petrol vehicles,. were some of the steps taken to reduce air pollution. Since it was apparent that transportation emissions contributed upwards of 12% to the overall ambient air quality, it was addressed seriously.

While the Delhi government has been struggling to tackle the issue, the Central government through an Ordinance has brought into effect ‘The Commission for air quality management in National Capital Region and adjoining areas, 2020’ to “fix” the air quality of Delhi. This commission shall hold the authority to regulate water and electricity supply and can shut down operation in case the sites cause air pollution. This ordinance dissolved the pre-existing ‘Environment Pollution (prevention & control) Authority’ (EPCA), formed in 1998 on the grounds of having failed miserably in the last 20 years.

The Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal has introduced a Green Delhi Mobile App a few days ago for all the residents of Delhi that can report their concerns with respect to pollution in Delhi, which seems to be a welcome step for all.  It all boils down to the fact that there is no lack of legal remedies or regulations, but rather a lack of initiative and action.  We urgently need to move away from inaction and ignorance and join together as individuals, communities, businesses and governments to ensure visible  and viable improvement. Clean power, alternative fuels and sustainable consumption can indeed help increase energy efficiency. This can be observed by significant improvements with technological advancements bringing about energy transition possibilities. It can also be achieved by targeting those particular  sectors with major contributions to pollution and encouraging them in  adopting cleaner energy practices, which would lead to reduction in pollution and a stable  and safe climate for the future.

About the author

Divya Bist is a lawyer with specialization in Corporate law and holds a Masters in Environmental law and Natural resource management. She is also a nature and wildlife enthusiast, avid animal lover, singer, poet and national level swimmer.

Divya has been working with WWF India since 2017 to make an impact on environment and wildlife conservation across several landscapes in India, through corporate engagement and partnerships that drive large-scale projects pan-India.  Further, she volunteered with the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau under the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change since 2018 and has been an active contributor to the ongoing efforts in elimination of illegal wildlife trade. Lastly, she has been a practitioner  for sustainable lifestyle choices and deeply believes in the power each individual holds, in making educated decisions as consumers to ensure minimum negative impact to ecological  health and balance.

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