Delhi Pollution: Gensets banned, Grap rules kick in

The Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) on Wednesday announced a ban on the use of fuel-powered generators from October 15 under the Graded Response Action Plan (Grap), a set of anti-pollution restrictions that include pre-emptive measures to stop the air quality from deteriorating to emergency levels.

On Wednesday, the overall air quality index (AQI) was 276 in the “poor” category, an improvement from the previous day’s 300. However, a layer of haze hung over the Capital, leading to concerns of an impending bad air crisis like previous years. The AQI hit “very poor” on Tuesday morning, and touched 318, the worst level since February this year.

“DPCC hereby bans the operation of generator sets of all capacities, run on diesel, petrol or kerosene in Delhi with effect from October 15 till further orders, excluding those used for essential or emergency services,” an order read.

Bhure Lal, chairperson of the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (Epca), a Supreme Court-appointed body tasked with overseeing the implementation of the pollution control action plan in the National Capital Region (NCR), said that Grap will be enforced “with no concessions” to any state.

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This means that from Thursday, generator sets will not be allowed in Delhi and the neighbouring towns of Noida, Ghaziabad, Gurugram, Greater Noida and Faridabad. The only exception to this will be emergency services such as hospitals, elevators, airports, railway and Delhi Metro services.

Grap lays down sets of curbs that are enforced when AQI crosses certain thresholds — the most serious of these include a ban on trucks, odd-even road restrictions, curbs on construction work, and an advisory to shut schools.

Reminding the states to strictly enforce the genset ban, Lal on Wednesday wrote to the chief secretaries of Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, asking them to issue directions to their respective state electricity boards to ensure 24×7 electricity supply to avoid the need for generator sets.

“…As you are aware that any deterioration in ambient air quality in the region during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic would have considerable ramifications in terms of health of the residents of Delhi-NCR, sincere efforts must be made to ensure that the ban is effective and monitored rigorously in your area,” Lal wrote.

While Delhi has been enforcing a ban on diesel gensets before the winter season since 2017, last year, the governments of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh asked for an extension till October 2020 from Epca to ensure that all power grids are installed in areas that are completely dependent on gensets.

On Tuesday, Haryana’s additional chief secretary (power department), Trilok C Gupta wrote to the Epca chief, stating that as many as 14,000 residents in Gurugram and Faridabad will be affected by this ban as their residential societies are dependent on generator sets to meet power demands.

“They (Haryana) have not asked for an exemption. I responded to their letter asking what they expected from Epca and I have not received any response,” Lal said on Wednesday. Lal told ANI: “Epca is not happy with the situation. We waited for one year… “

Farm fires and emissions from firecrackers during Diwali result in heavy concentrations of PM2.5 ultra-fine particles in the air, which can lead to major health problems since they can enter the bloodstream after penetrating deep into the lungs.

Responding to Epca directions, DPCC issued its order stating that the ban will be implemented strictly across the Capital. The regional pollution control body directed all concerned agencies to comply with the order and submit a daily action-taken report. Violators will be prosecuted under the Air (Pollution and Control of Pollution) Act, with fines depending on the size of the gensets being used.

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader and national spokesperson Raghav Chadha said that the “abject inaction” of the government in neighbouring Haryana was the prime cause for Delhi’s increasing pollution. “As Grap will come into force from October 15, the use of diesel gensets will be banned in the regions of Delhi-NCR. While Delhi government has dutifully followed the rules set forth by Epca, our neighbours in Haryana don’t seem to want to take any action,” he said.

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Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director (research and advocacy), Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), said there could be challenges in implementing the anti-pollution curbs this year because of restrictions brought on by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic. “We will be working with certain limitations this year. This means, we will have to put into use what we have learnt from the (Covid-19) lockdown and ensure that the winter emergency action plan does not get affected by it,” Roychowdhury said.

“For instance, the odd-even vehicle rationing scheme might not be very easy to implement this time because we need have to ensure social distancing inside public transport systems and because of that buses and the Metro are operating with limited passengers. Unless we provide a viable public transport option for people, we cannot push private vehicles off the road.”

According to Grap, which was first implemented in 2017 through Epca, if the air quality continues to be in the “severe” category for 48 hours, measures such as traffic rationing and a ban on the entry of trucks are brought into force. Industries running on coal are also asked to cease operations. In previous years, schools in NCR have been forced to be close due to dramatic rise in air pollution, with people, especially the elderly and young children, being asked not to go out.

The Epca chairperson conceded that there will be challenges this year. “This does not mean we sit back and let pollution levels rise. This only means that we will have to increase monitoring and action on the ground so that the pollution levels do not rise to the levels where we have the need to take these measures,” Lal said.

A senior Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) official said on condition of anonymity: “Last year, the CPCB in its list of suggestions had proposed that private firms should introduce measures such as allowing employees to work from home and introduce staggered timings; then it seemed like an unattainable task, but now we are all used to this set-up. Schools are also getting used to the online classes, so if need be, they can be asked to continue with it,” the official said.

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