Diesel gensets ban worries NCR residents, as permitted alternatives too costly

RWAs across NCR have been preparing members to stop depending on diesel gensets, but finding affordable alternatives is a tough task.

This is the second and final part of the series on the impact of the total ban on use of diesel gen sets by residential, commercial and industrial establishments in Delhi and NCR.

In an earlier article, we discussed the revised rules under the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) that has been formulated to tackle Delhi and NCR’s infamous winter pollution issue. The ban on diesel gensets is one component, though everybody has to do their bit.

In the very first stage, the 24 actions to be taken will begin with the strict vigilance and enforcement of Pollution Under Check (PUC) norms, where visibly polluting vehicles will be impounded, and fined heavily; trucks with other destinations will be diverted, industrial units will face stringent action if found using non-approved fuel.

When the second stage sets in, use of coal and firewood, including in tandoors, will be banned in hotels, restaurants and open eateries, one among the 12 actions to be taken.

Read more: Delhi’s coal ban must include a plan for small businesses that depend on it

Then comes the biggest challenge for all: the ban on diesel generators, installed in every office, shop, institution, housing society complex and independent houses. The only exception is the use of the gensets for emergency and essential services that include medical services, elevators, escalators, railway services and stations, metro rail services and stations, airports and inter-state bus terminals, sewage treatment plants, water pumping stations, national security and defence related activities, projects of national importance and telecommunication and data services.

It is to be noted that high rise buildings, commercial complexes and office buildings are not exempted from this ban. This has led to considerable consternation. Those living/working in high rise offices, malls and multiplexes, and RWAs marched to the CAQM offices not concealing their agitation.

“When we had to identify a major electricity cable snag and get it repaired—it took us two days,” said Punkaj Bajaj, an office bearer of an RWA in Ghaziabad. “And believe you me, we brought a 79-year old patient down the steps from the 14th floor in a chair, not sure whether he would reach the hospital alive”.

In fact, from early September, RWA presidents across the NCR have been preparing members to stop depending on power from diesel gensets. The discussion on RWA Whatsapp groups has largely been on the ban on diesel gensets, the alternatives, their availability and affordability.

Some exemptions

A large number of associations, federations, industries and individuals made representations before the CAQM, explaining the compelling reasons for using diesel gensets when there were interruptions in power supply. In response to this, the Commission allowed some exemptions mainly for emergency services. But underlined that the polluting gensets could not be used for any other activities of commercial entities and residential societies.

Most importantly, diesel gensets could not be used for more than two hours a day. To provide power back up for more than two hours, the CAQM notification directed that the gensets be retrofitted to run in hybrid mode along with Retrofitted Emission Control Devices (RECD). 

But installing RECDs is easier said than done. They have to be approved by the Central Pollution Control Board and certificates of approval with serial numbers must be displayed in the DG set rooms. Also, these RECDs must have remote monitoring capability with internet connectivity.

As on date, there is just one company that is almost ready to provide such RECDs.

Read more: Smoggy, but unfazed: Mumbai needs to take air pollution more seriously than it does

All across the NCR, RWA managements have sent umpteen reminders to member buildings and towers, educating them about how the ban on diesel gensets will impact them. Notices have been sent out stating that apartments, basements, club houses and banquet halls, chambers and commercial areas will not get alternative power supply in case of grid failure. Keep your emergency torchlights, hand fans and inverters ready, they have been warned.

V K Mittal, president of the Kaushambi Residents Welfare Association (KARWA) informed its members that teams of the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board and the CAQM would directly contact the president or secretary of each building RWA to check the status of compliance of its directives. A compliance report was also required to be filed by September 22nd. 

KARWA had thrice sought exemption from the ban on diesel gensets for its 22 high rise towers. They cited high prices quoted by manufacturers of RECDs and for installation of dual fuel kits on existing DG sets, their financial inability to replace them with PNG gen sets which have to be imported.

Truck spewing polluting emissions
Under the new GRAP rules in Delhi, there will be strict vigilance and enforcement of Pollution Under Check (PUC) norms, where visibly polluting vehicles (file pic above) will be impounded, and fined heavily.

RWAs made yet another representation to the CAQM asking for inclusion of water pumps in the list of emergency and essential services for which diesel gensets can be used when grid power is not available. The Commission accepted this, although including this within the total of two hours that the gensets can run.

Almost every section of people pointed to non-availability of gas connections at short notice, the high, unpredictable and increasing cost of gas which is not regulated, and urged the government to subsidise gas for gensets and cap the prices of RECDs, Dual Fuel Kits and Air Purifiers. The market for these had become exploitative, they all said.

High costs

The installation of gas-based gensets or retrofitting with dual kit as directed by the CAQM is a very costly proposition for the largely middle class apartment residents. According to one RWA, dual fuel kits come for around Rs 6 lakh each, plus GST, installation, freight etc which may add up to Rs 8 lakh each. Plus they need to get the gas connection from IGL, which they said would cost around Rs 4-5 lakh. The total for dual fuel kit plus gas may thus come to around Rs 22 lakh. An amount which not many families can afford.

Supply-side concerns

The restriction on diesel gensets has put a lot of pressure on discoms as well. They have to ensure that power outages on account of transmission faults, failures and breakdowns are repaired quickly.

Amit Kamboj, an executive engineer in Gurugram said they were adding more staff in the maintenance wing which has taken over the infrastructure in many developer colonies. “Once we get more hands, outages can be dealt with more quickly”.

The state level pollution control boards have been tasked with ensuring that the power department ensures uninterrupted power supply. Teams of pollution board staff, municipal corporations and power supply departments have been formed to keep an eye out for those using gensets.

Penalty for rule violations could be anything — from facing sealing of the building or paying environmental compensation or fighting it out in the environment court.

But one issue that may defeat the very purpose of the CAQM is that the classification of the various stages of AQI are based on that recorded in Delhi — normally lower than the very polluted Ghaziabad or Gurugram.

How AQI varies across NCR

Perhaps, in order to be more effective, GRAP should be implemented at the district level, for AQI variations are drastic, and sometimes, even surprising, with crowded Indirapuram of Ghaziabad, having a lower figure than the capital city’s Anand Vihar.

For instance, at 12 noon on October 13th, the AQI at Anand Vihar, Delhi was “very poor” at 302, according to the Central Pollution Control Board’s website. At exactly the same time, it was “poor” at 235 in ITO, Delhi, and “moderate” at 104 in the North Campus of Delhi University.

On Oct 4th, it was 354 at Anand Vihar,105 at ITO and 121 at the North Campus. But that was due to the rains that lashed North India And a few days earlier, on October 1st when the revised GRAP kicked in, Anand Vihar had a “poor” AQI of 208, North Campus “moderate” at 168 and ITO “poor” at 251. But there was also Dussehra on October 5th, when effigies were burnt all over the region. Resulting in the AQI meter at Anand Vihar hitting 391, and at ITO 235.

On those very days, the AQI in adjoining Ghaziabad district’s Indirapuram locality was 239 (Oct 5th), 162 (Oct 4th), 197(Oct 1st), and 138(Oct 13th).

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