Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar
Curbs imposed under the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) which kicks in whenever the air quality in the Delhi National Capital Region (NCR) appear to be the main reason behind Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar urging the Union government to relax the pollution control provisions applicable on the state to within a radius of 10 km from Delhi’s boundary and also to restrict them to cities which have a population of over 10 lakh.
With the air quality in Delhi NCR showing a regular trend of deteriorating in October-November, both due to climatic factors as also burning of crop stubble – farmers burn the rice stalk for early plantation of wheat, the GRAP was formulated by the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) following consultations with government representatives and experts and approved by the Supreme Court in 2016. It provides a standardised plan on emergency measures to be taken when air quality deteriorates.
GRAP restricts movement and industry work in times of high air pollution
The graded response plan provides for strict measures such as restriction on entry of heavy vehicles, odd-even vehicle rotation and a halt of construction work in times of high air pollution levels. All these measures also have their own economic costs and impact industry and trade, and consequently tax collections.
Stage 1 of GRAP sets in when air quality is moderate to poor. In such a scenario, GRAP demands use of mechanised sweeping, washing roads, enforcing a ban on firecrackers, and increased scrutiny of vehicles for pollution standards. When the air quality deteriorates to Stage 2 or “very poor” it requires the imposition of a ban on diesel generators, surge in parking fees, and a ban on the use of coal and firewood in eateries.
When the air quality reaches Stage 3 or becomes “severely polluted”, the plan demands an increase in the frequency of road cleaning and washing, shutting down of brick kilns and restriction on the operation of coal-based power plants. In the final “emergency” Stage 4, it requires a ban on entry of trucks (except for essential items), halting construction work and starting the odd-even vehicle scheme. It is pertinent to note that Air Quality Index between 0-50 is considered good, 51-100 satisfactory, 101-200 moderate, 201-300 poor, 301-400 very poor and 401-500 severe.
Haryana’s concern is that 13 of its 22 districts fall under the NCR and get covered by the pollution response measures. Though during the online meeting, chaired by Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav on Wednesday, Khattar did not refer to GRAP, he did demand that “all suggested provisions be implemented within the radius of 10 km of NCT and Delhi or within 10 km radius of cities having 10 lakh population. If not then these provisions should be implemented as per districts specified, not as NCR.”
Incidentally, in 2019, the Faridabad Industries Association (FIA), a leading body of entrepreneurs in the township south of Delhi had planned a protest against GRAP impacting non-gas fuel-based industrial units but had later cancelled the march following assurances by the Haryana government.
Since some of the emergency pollution control measures impact the functioning of the industry and other trades in the NCR, Haryana has been seeking relaxations, especially since business in the state has since 2020 been adversely impacted by COVID-19.
Crop diversification being promoted
During the online meeting, Khattar also highlighted various measures taken by the state government to change the cropping pattern and provide alternatives to farmers so that they did not have to burn the crop residue in the fields. He said in Haryana, the total area under paddy now stood at 34.10 lakh acres which included 57% for Basmati and 43% for non-Basmati varieties.
He further explained that “the area has been reduced by up to 10.7% in comparison to the previous year”. As many as 34,372 stubble management machines are available in Haryana with individual farmers at 4,224 Custom Hiring Centres. In a bid to ensure efficient management of stubble burning, the villages have been categorised into Red, Yellow and Green Zones in terms of incidences of crop burning.
The chief minister also said a detailed action plan has been discussed and prepared with the help of the Commission for Air Quality Management in NCR and Adjoining Areas (CAQM). He said a scheme for providing a Rs 1,000 per acre incentive on paddy straw to the farmers for the management of crop residue has also been implemented in the state. Likewise, he said, crop diversification was being encouraged through the ‘Mera Pani, Meri Virasat’ scheme under which an incentive of Rs 7,000 per acre was being provided to woo farmers away from paddy cultivation.
Haryana residents losing 8.4 years due to heavy air pollution
While crop cultivation, use of stubble management equipment like happy seeders and payment of incentives are seen as measures that can curb air pollution, Haryana has not been doing too well in controlling the quality of air.
Recently, it was reported that residents of Haryana could live 8.4 years longer if the high pollution levels were controlled. A study by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago on the air quality life index (AQLI) had revealed that Haryana was the fourth worst affected state in India when it came to air pollution.
The AQLI, developed by EPIC, by converting air pollution concentrations into their impact on life expectancy revealed how much longer people could live if they breathed in clean air. The report said citizens of Haryana could on average live up to 8.4 years more if the particulate matter (PM2.5) concentration in the state remained below 10 µg/m3 (mili-micrograms per metre cube) – which is the level deemed safe by the World Health Organisation.
Last year, several cities in Haryana experienced a sharp dip in pollution levels during the COVID-19 lockdown. They hit high levels of pollution in November when the crop burning season began. The AQI during that month was recorded at a high of 414 in Faridabad, 425 in Gurgaon, 441 in Hisar and 457 in Jind.
Power plants to procure only minuscule quantity of crop residue
Meanwhile, the Centre has taken several other measures to ensure that less crop residue is burnt in the fields of north India. One of the steps involves the purchase of nearly 20 metric tonnes of parali or crop residue by the thermal plants in the region. In this regard, directions have been issued to 11 thermal power plants within a 300-kilometre radius of Delhi.
However, the quantity of crop residue these plants have been asked to purchase is minuscule considering around 23 million tonnes of paddy stubble is burnt in the region every year.
Following a meeting to review the air pollution control measures, environment, forests and climate change secretary R.P. Gupta had told the media that “thermal plants are to use at least 10% biomass. Of that, 50% would be parali.
As another measure to reduce crop residue burning, the Pusa bio-decomposer technology is being promoted.
The Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) on Wednesday said the bio-decomposer solution, which has been developed by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, and which was first used by Delhi last year, would this year be used over 6 lakh acres in Uttar Pradesh, 1 lakh acres in Haryana and 7,413 acres in Punjab. In Delhi, it would be sprayed over an area of 4,000 acres. Courtesy The Wire