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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS–How plan for clean air works?

The Editorial covers GS paper 3 [Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.]

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Introduction

  • Starting October 15, some stricter measures to fight air pollution will come into force in Delhi’s neighbourhood, as part of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP). 
  • The action plan has already been in effect for two years in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR). 
  • What is new in the recent announcement is that measures aimed at stopping the use of diesel generator sets will, from next week, extend beyond Delhi to the NCR, where many areas see regular power cuts.

What is the Background?

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  • The measures that are coming into force will be incremental. 
  • As pollution rises, and it is expected to as winter approaches, more measures will come into play depending on the air quality.
  • All these measures are part of GRAP, which was formulated in 2016 and notified in 2017. 
  • Experts working in the field of air pollution have credited this list of measures with causing the dip in Delhi’s air pollution over the past few years.

What do we know about GRAP?

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  • Approved by the Supreme Court in 2016, the plan was formulated after several meetings that the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) held with state government representatives and experts. 
  • The result was a plan that institutionalised measures to be taken when air quality deteriorates.
  • GRAP works only as an emergency measure. 
  • As such, the plan does not include action by various state governments to be taken throughout the year to tackle industrial, vehicular and combustion emissions. 
  • When the air quality shifts from poor to very poor, the measures listed under both sections have to be followed since the plan is incremental in nature.
  • If air quality reaches the severe+ stage, GRAP talks about shutting down schools and implementing the odd-even road-space rationing scheme.

What are the key features GRAP?

  • GRAP has been successful in doing two things that had not been done before — creating a step-by-step plan for the entire Delhi-NCR region and getting on board several agencies: all pollution control boards, industrial area authorities, municipal corporations, regional officials of the India Meteorological Department, and others. 
  • The plan requires action and coordination among 13 different agencies in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan (NCR areas). 
  • At the head of the table is the EPCA, mandated by the Supreme Court.
  • GRAP was notified in 2017 by the Centre and draws its authority from this notification. 
  • Before the imposition of any measures, EPCA holds a meeting with representatives from all NCR states, and a call is taken on which actions has to be made applicable in which town.
  • Last year, the ban on using diesel generator sets was implemented only in Delhi. 
  • This year, it is being extended to a few NCR towns. 
  • Rural areas are, however, being left out of this stringent measure because of unreliable power supply.

 

What are the significances?

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  • The biggest success of GRAP has been in fixing accountability and deadlines. 
  • For each action to be taken under a particular air quality category, executing agencies are clearly marked.
  •  In a territory like Delhi, where a multiplicity of authorities has been a long-standing impediment to effective governance, this step made a crucial difference. 
  • Also, coordination among as many as 13 agencies from four states is simplified to a degree because of the clear demarcation of responsibilities.
  • Three major policy decisions that can be credited to EPCA and GRAP are the closure of the thermal power plant at Badarpur, bringing BS-VI fuel to Delhi before the deadline set initially, and the ban on Pet coke as a fuel in Delhi NCR.
  • The EPCA, headed by retired IAS officer Bhure Lal and including members from the Centre for Science and Environment, was constituted in 1998 by the Supreme Court. 
  • The initial mandate of the body was to ensure the shift of Delhi’s bus and auto fleet to CNG — a mammoth task that was among the most crucial ones in cleaning Delhi’s air in the late 2000s. 
  • The body continues to monitor pollution and assists the Supreme Court in several pollution-related matters. 

Conclusion

  • One criticism of the EPCA as well as GRAP has been the focus on Delhi. 
  • While other states have managed to delay several measures, citing lack of resources, Delhi has always been the first one to have stringent measures enforced. 
  • In a recent meeting that discussed the ban on diesel generator sets, the point about Delhi doing all the heavy lifting was also raised. 
  • In 2014, when a study by the World Health Organization found that Delhi was the most polluted city in the world, panic spread in the Centre and the state government. 
  • The release of a study on sources of air pollution the following year also gave experts, NGOs and scientists a handle on why Delhi was so polluted. 
  • All of these things, state government officials say, have made Delhi the obvious pilot project. 
  • For GRAP as well as EPCA, the next challenge is to extend the measures to other states effectively.

Source: Indian Express.