This is the first of a two-part series on the impact of the total ban under the new GRAP rules on use of diesel gensets by residential, commercial and industrial establishments in Delhi and NCR.
Shiv Dayal, an electrician in charge of a few high rise buildings in the Ghaziabad area of East Delhi is these days focussed for most of the day on a website on his phone. But then, that is part of his job now — he is keeping track of the Air Quality Index (AQI) in the national capital city, Delhi. The minute the AQI goes above 200, Shiv Dayal is tasked by the RWA to switch off individual diesel genset connections that many apartments have, to community-owned diesel powered gensets which services five buildings.
October is when there is a nip in the early morning air in north India, signalling the onset of winter. But sadly enough, in the last few years, the month has been more about the onset of severe air pollution over Delhi.
When this happens, as it has been with sickening regularity in recent years, the authorities begin to initiate its response as stated in the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) meant to mitigate the effects of air pollution and gradually improve air quality over Delhi.
While most measures listed in GRAP are generally accepted, one contentious measure that hits hard the lives and livelihoods of residents, offices, traders, SMEs, MSMEs and informal work is the total ban on diesel powered gensets. In most residential and commercial establishments, this is the main energy back up during power cuts. In some high rise residential buildings, they are the sole source of electricity.
This year, from October 1st, the ban on diesel gensets, whose use is limited to two hours except during emergencies, came into force following the CAQM’s directive on the implementation of the revised GRAP to combat air pollution in the NCR. The Commission itself was constituted under the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Act, 2021, as an all-powerful body that saw all other environment related agencies like EPCA rendered infructuous.
The fear of “Direction No 66” issued by the CAQM on August 5th, has resulted in sleepless nights for RWAs and residents. Especially the revised GRAP schedule issued by the CAQM on January 4th. The revisions were based on the advice of an Expert Group constituted under directions of the Supreme Court in November last.
Think Gurugram, and what one sees are sprawling high rise offices, commercial complexes and residential apartments. Drive past Ghaziabad district to hit the Eastern Peripheral Road or NOIDA to join the Taj Expressway, and one sees high rises — occupied or ready for people to move in, and many under construction. People living or working in these locations, it appears, are likely to be hit most by the total ban on diesel gensets.
This geographical urban segment constitutes 62% of NCR’s population. According to the UN Population projection, Delhi’s present population is 32,066,000 and according to Wikipedia, the NCR has a total population of 46,069,000. Ironically enough, it is this lot that will face the brunt of the GRAP restrictions. The capital city of Delhi apart, the NCR includes 14 districts of Haryana, eight of Uttar Pradesh and two of Rajasthan.
Direction No 66 calling for strict implementation of the revised GRAP has been copied to about 150 people including officials of municipal councils, transport departments, power generation plants , discoms, besides the district magistrates and divisional commissioners across these states.
Normally, GRAP restrictions kick in around mid-October. But this year it was advanced to October 1st. In the past, response was based on the level of particulate matter –PM2.5 and PM 10. Now GRAP has been classified under four stages of AQI in Delhi, working on the “airshed” principle.
- Stage 1, representing an AQI between 201-300 has been dubbed “Poor”.
- Stage 2, with AQI between 301 and 400, is “Very Poor”.
- Stage 3, or severe is AQI between 401 and 500.
- Stage 4, or “Severe Plus”, when the AQI is over 450.
The steps to control pollution have definitely been thought out better. For one they have to be taken three days before Delhi’s air quality turns “very poor, severe or severe plus”.
To facilitate this, the CAQM will convey the projected levels of AQI based on the dynamic model and weather and meteorological forecast that will be provided by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) and Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology ( IITM) on a day to day basis.
What the GRAP prescribes
One of the 24 actions prescribed to deal with “Stage 1” when the AQI is between 201 and 300, for instance, is to stringently enforce emission norms in thermal plants within 300 kms of Delhi, and take strict actions against non-compliance.
Stage 2 prescribes a dozen actions, and these will be in addition to the 24 of Stage 1, making for 36 actions in all. So, while in Stage I, discoms are directed to minimise power supply interruptions, in Stage II, state governments have been directed to ensure uninterrupted power supply to discourage the use of diesel gensets.
In Stage 3, there are just four actions, pertaining to further intensification of mechanised and vacuum-based sweeping of roads, springing of dust suppressants, encourage public transport by introducing differential rates and ban on construction and demolition activities barring airports, metro rail, ISBT, sanitation projects etc.
Effectively, the 40 actions prescribed for the previous two stages stay in force. Thus, the thermal plants will continue to strictly enforce emission norms, diesel generator bans will continue, and the pressure to supply uninterrupted power will remain till the AQI falls below 200.
The CAQM’s sub-committee on GRAP will plan advance action, issue necessary orders, review actions taken by various agencies, depending on the prevailing AQI and projections it receives from the IMD. The Commission itself will add to the measures under various stages and decide on exceptions to the schedule.