What Delhi’s new civic bodies could do to clean the air

As the national capital elects a new municipality, here's a look at what the city government could do to tackle its air pollution problem.

If you are in Delhi now, the ink on your fingers is probably fresh still. In about a day from the time you read this, the much awaited results of the elections to the three municipal corporations in the national capital will be known. It has been an intense, high-decibel and often bitter campaign but once the reins have finally been assumed by the newly elected members of the municipal bodies, can Delhiites hope to breathe easy? Not just metaphorically, but literally too?

In the years to come, Delhi’s deteriorating air could have disastrous consequences for its population. According to Greenpeace India, the National Capital Territory of Delhi (Delhi) already witnesses approximately 1.2 million deaths every year that can be attributed to air pollution. As the levels of particulate matter and noxious gases continue to rise, compliance with air pollution control measures by private entities becomes more and more difficult to supervise.

In this regard, Delhi’s municipal corporations (MCD) have an important role to play in overseeing emissions from three of the largest contributors of air pollution in Delhi, i.e. construction sites, ready-mix concrete batching plants and vehicles.

As citizens, let us be aware of the actions and measures that the municipal authorities ought to take to counter Delhi’s air quality crises.

Dust at construction sites

The building bye laws and regulations entrust municipal bodies with the task of monitoring compliance of air pollution control measures by builders and plot owners. However, a large amount of dust particles continues to be generated from construction sites across Delhi which significantly contributes to the particulate matter pollution.

Emission Load from Construction and Demolition activities (kg/day)

Category TSP PM10 PM2.5
Buildings 16281.72 4070.4301 1017.61
Roads and Flyover 4385.63 1096.4075 274.102
Totals 20667.35 5166.8376 1291.71

Source: Comprehensive Study on Air Pollution and Green House Gases (GHGs) in Delhi, IIT Kanpur, January, 2016

Due to their limited capacity, municipal bodies have been unable to regularly monitor compliance with dust control measures by builders and plot-owners. While increasing capacity is one option, an immediate option could be to delegate monitoring functions to resident welfare associations (RWAs), at least for construction sites in and around residential colonies.

The Bhagidari scheme could be one possible forum, where municipal bodies and the RWAs could interact with another on this issue. The scheme aims to encourage a dialogue between the people and their civic representatives in order to work out solutions to common civic problems.

In addition to involving RWAs, other unique ways of monitoring could be explored. For instance, the Graded Response Plan of the Central Pollution Control Board, which was released in December 2016, suggests the use of social media and phone applications to enable citizens to report violations of pollution control norms.

The Delhi Government had also suggested the modification of the Swachh Delhi application on phones to allow people to register complaints regarding dust emissions at construction sites. The newly elected municipal representatives could also explore these avenues further and involve the public in monitoring and reporting non-compliance of dust control measures by builders.

Fly-ash at RMC Batching Plants

Ready mix concrete (RMC) mixture, is essentially a mixture of concrete that is manufactured in a factory or at a batching plant and transferred to a construction site. The mixture emits a large amount of fly ash, which then contributes to air pollution.

According to the IIT Kanpur Report, RMC plants are the third biggest contributor of PM10 emissions in the city. Presently, RMC plants located in and around Delhi are not regulated per se. As a result, such plants are not required to comply with certain basic pollution control measures that can reduce the emission of fly ash into the air.

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai has, for instance, tried to intervene and regulate fly ash emissions from RMC plants in greater Mumbai through the issuance of norms on dust control for all RMC plant operators. The municipal bodies in Delhi could also issue similar norms for RMC plants within Delhi.

Vehicular pollution

Pollution from vehicles is the second largest source of air pollution within Delhi. It results in 83% CO emissions, 36% of NOx emissions, 20% of PM2.5 and 9% of PM10 (IIT Kanpur Report, 2016). It has been found that there is a direct correlation between the increase in the number of vehicles and the increase in pollution in Delhi. When vehicles increased by 97% in the year 2000, particulate matter increased by almost 75%, and NOx by 30% (CSE, 2015).

There is a lot that the municipal bodies of Delhi can do to reduce vehicular pollution within Delhi. For one, the MCD can increase its toll tax that is chargeable at all checkpoints bordering Delhi. At the moment, the MCD toll tax is substantially less than the toll tax chargeable by the NHAI, due to which trucks and other bulky vehicles prefer to pass from within Delhi than from the bypass outside of Delhi. Moreover, the MCD can involve RWAs in regularising parking spaces in residential areas and charging fixed parking fees from all persons occupying parking spaces annually.

On-street parking in residential areas should also be made extremely difficult through the imposition of hefty fines and multiple conditions. The MCD should generally increase parking rates across Delhi and equalise parking rates for structured and surface parking. As a long term measure, the MCD should try and completely eliminate free parking within Delhi for the purpose of reducing traffic and pollution.

By regulating private parking spaces and taxing private vehicles, municipal corporations would be successful in dissuading the citizens of Delhi from purchasing and operating their own private vehicles in view of the high costs involved. This in turn would reduce the number of private vehicles plying on the road and resolve the problem of congestion as well as vehicular pollution.

While the ownership of a private vehicle is seen as a measure of growth in India, it is also the single biggest cause of air pollution. This is why countries such as China have also employed similar steps to resolve the problems of increasing vehicle fleet, high congestion on roads and severe air pollution crises. For instance, Beijing uses a limited quota system to check the number of private vehicles registered each year. The city of Shenzhen has substantially increased its parking fees, which has resulted in a 30% drop in parking demand.

Taking inspiration from these examples, the municipal corporations in Delhi should also make it extremely expensive to own a private vehicle within Delhi, as that would substantially resolve the problem of congestion and air pollution. However, these measures would be unsuccessful without the strengthening of the public transportation system within the city, which would serve as the alternative mode of transport for those citizens who would be unable to afford private vehicles. The measures that the Delhi Government has in the pipeline to improve the public transportation system in the city is a step in this direction.

By regulating parking and ownership of private vehicles, and emissions from RMC plants and construction sites, the municipal bodies within Delhi could really play an important part in improving the quality of Delhi’s air, thus making the city more liveable for its residents.

[Extracted and adapted from Cleaning Delhi’s Air: Implementation Action Plan, April 2017 by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy. Full report can be accessed here.]

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