New Delhi, Aug 7: Happy at a permanent commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas for better co-ordination, research, identification, and resolution of problems surrounding the air quality index, experts are also wary of the the fact that mere regulations would not help in the long run.
The Centre had earlier brought out an ordinance for setting up the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas in 2020 but it had lapsed in March this year. A similar ordinance was promulgated on April 13, 2021, and now, this Act replaces it paving the way for a permanent Commission.
Delhi being the landlocked state, the sources of air pollution comprise factors beyond the local municipal and local government limits. Agricultural activities, majorly straw burning, brick kilns, thermal plants, transport, and industry apart from construction in Delhi and NCR areas all contribute to the air pollution but several of these are non-local sources.
Apart from Delhi-NCR's own sources of emissions, a major contributor especially in winters is the burning of agriculture waste by the farmers in Punjab and Haryana. There were a lot of critical comments on the clause 14 and 15 of the Act especially from the farming organisations and opposition.
As per clause 14, any violation of the provisions/orders under this Act are punishable by imprisonment for a term of up to five years or a fine of up to Rs 1 crore or both, provided that these provisions shall not be applicable to any farmer for causing air pollution by stubble burning or mismanagement of agricultural residue. Opposition leaders had claimed on Thursday that the clause 15 empowers the Commission to levy and collect environmental compensation from farmers who burn stubble or agro-waste. This compensation will be prescribed by the Central government.
Even when Yadav had said that the clause 14 seeks to decriminalise the entire process and that no penalty would be levied on farmers who burn stubble or agricultural waste, the farmers are not taking it. "The Act as it stands today has to be revoked as the farmer continues to be under the penal provisions. Clause is an omnibus clause, clause 15th hardly matters," said secretary of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, Avik Saha.
"Our demand as it was when it was an ordinance remains the same. We want complete repeal of the Act or amendment in the clause 14 and 15," Saha told IANS.
Executive director of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Dr. GV Ramanjaneyulu echoes that the air pollution crisis that Delhi NCR faces has a lot linked to the rice-wheat cropping system.
"Unless the rice-wheat cropping system changes, nothing else is going to help. The decisions have to be taken at a much larger scale to change the ecosystem and not just by regulation," Ramanjaneyulu said.
For the uninitiated, rice-wheat system means, the farmers from Punjab and Haryana that growing rice in kharif and wheat in rabi season hardly get time to remove the stubble from rice before sowing wheat and hence they prefer to burn it. The gap between these two actions -- removing the stubble after cutting rice crop and sowing the wheat crop -- is very less, labour availability is coming down and cost wise, removing the stubble is not economical for farmers.
"So, if these three are not going to change, the regulation won't work. The rice-wheat cropping system should change. Only rice and wheat are procured, there is free power, there is huge fertilizer subsidy and huge machine subsidy. All this contributes towards growing (only) paddy and wheat. You are incentivising to grow rice and wheat and saying, 'don't grow it'," he said.
What is needed is to look at how this entire policy will be changed as it is an inter-ministerial thing and has "a lot to do with the mindsets of the bureaucrats", Ramanjaneyulu added.
Agreed Saha. "Government has to tell us what to do? We don't stop burning stubble because we like burning stubble. This is a government policy. You give us water one month late, the only crops you buy are wheat and rice. We are growing because you are buying and not paying enough for other crops," Saha added.
The problem of farmers burning the agri-waste apart, there are umpteenth sources of pollution from across the Delhi-NCR and there are several agencies in the play. The Commission is an attempt at an umbrella body which replaced the NCR's Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority -- EPCA. The provisions of the Act will remain supreme in case there is some conflict between either the state governments or the pollution control bodies. Now, it will remain to be seen if the Commission will be able to really pool in all the agencies from different states for checking pollution in Delhi NCR and surrounding areas.
The ordinance had earlier and now the Act takes into cognizance the 'air shed' approach as the government realised that Delhi's air cannot be managed by activities confined to Delhi, it must be an air shed approach. And therefore, this unified body for the entire Delhi-NCR and surrounding areas, which are geographically contiguous landmass in the air shed (on the lines of water shed) beyond state/district boundaries.
Ramanjaneyulu appreciated the airshed approach is always good compared to looking at political boundaries as "air travels beyond political boundaries and the crisis also happens beyond political boundaries."
But the question is, how can the western disturbances that affect the atmospheric change over entire north-west India and have a major bearing on the region's weather be accounted for in this regional air shed model?
Meteorologists describe 'Western Disturbance' as something that originates outside the tropics, in the Mediterranean region, and travels from western to the eastern direction to the area with reduced air pressure. In northwest India, WD are associated with rainfall in winters, snowfall in the hills and fog in entire northern Indo-Gangetic plains. These affect the weather system in Pakistan and north-west India.
India Meteorological Department's former Director General (Meteorology) K J Ramesh, who was also the member of the erstwhile Commission, said: "When you deal with the air quality model, the atmospheric circulation is always accommodated in such model. For example, IMD is running a SILAM model for daily air quality forecasts, the atmospheric circulation is already embedded in it."
SILAM, short for System for Integrated modelling of Atmospheric composition is an air quality forecast model used by IMD by incorporating various changes in existing models such as improved emission inventories, Land Use and Land Cover (LULC) and improved assimilation of various observational data. SILAM was further improved by implementing global emission inventories.
Not just WDs but even those coming from east or from Arabian Sea, everything is inbuilt in this SILAM model, Ramesh said.
The wait now will be to know when the Commission gets notified.