It is that time of the year for Delhi when residents and policymakers begin to experience the fallouts of worsening air quality. The nodal agency, monitoring air quality in Delhi and its neighbouring states, has been prompt and purposeful in bringing back the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP).
At the slightest hint of deterioration in air quality from moderate to poor, the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) has announced the enforcement of GRAP in NCR states through a missive. Measures under Phase I are currently in effect.
On Wednesday, Delhi recorded an AQI of 211, according to the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) bulletin. It was the highest reading since June 25 this year, when the AQI was 230.
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On October 3, the Delhi government launched a 24/7 Green War Room to combat air pollution. The anti-dust campaign was also launched earlier today. (October 6). The war room is aimed at combating pollution and ensuring effective and serious implementation of GRAP.
The Green War Room has several screens to showcase different air pollution-related information. The first screen will display real-time Air Quality Index (AQI) and pollution data, while the second screen will show the number of pending complaints on the Green Delhi app. A third screen will depict farm fire data for each day.
How GRAP works
The GRAP is a mechanism aimed at pre-emptively controlling pollution levels in the National Capital Region (NCR). Measures under Stage I can be enforced anytime across NCR when Delhi hits at least 201 (AQI ranging from 201 to 300 is poor category).
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GRAP prescribes a list of curbs when air pollution levels in Delhi hit certain trigger points. The restrictions get stricter as AQI worsens. Stage II denotes “very poor” air quality (AQI 301–400); Stage III denotes “severe” air quality (AQI 401–450); Stage IV denotes “severe+” air quality (AQI>450).
The revised GRAP also contains measures to be taken by the public, such as keeping vehicle engines properly tuned, turning off engines at red lights, keeping PUC (pollution under control) certificates up to date, maintaining tyre pressure in vehicles, and not disposing of waste in open spaces.
Stage I: Currently in effect
Stage I or “poor” category, currently in force, involves a basic list of measures, including agencies carrying out mechanised sweeping and sprinkling of water on roads. Construction and demolition work at sites larger than 500 square metres, which have not registered themselves on the state government’s web portal, must be stopped.
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How GRAP is different this year
Speaking to The Federal, Polash Mukherjee, lead on air quality at the Natural Resources Defence Council, India, said the CAQM revised the GRAP earlier this year. In the earlier version of GRAP notified in 2017, the measures would come into effect after pollution concentration reached a certain level. However, this year, the measures are pre-emptive and will kick in based on forecasts. The aim is to prevent the AQI from worsening further.
He added that the earlier version of GRAP was enforced based only on the concentration of PM2.5 and PM 10 (particulate matter sizes). However, this time, GRAP is being enforced based on AQI, which takes other pollutants into consideration, thereby making the assessment more broad-based and holistic.
“This year, stages II, III, and IV are based on forecasts and early indications, unlike previous years, when the climate body waited for the AQI to deteriorate. This changed strategy is also likely to yield better outcome this year,” he explained.
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Welcoming the early enforcement of GRAP, Mukherjee termed it as a “preventive” step that will go a long way in curbing a steep fall in air quality.
Monsoon withdrawal and AQI
There is a connection between the withdrawal of monsoon and deteriorating air quality. Dr VK Soni, senior scientist, environment monitoring and research centre, IMD, explained that after the monsoon withdraws, the wind speed tends to reduce, leading to a spike in air pollution.
“According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the monsoon withdrew from Delhi on September 29—earlier than last year. The air quality has started deteriorating much earlier due to the early withdrawal of the monsoon compared to last year,” explained the scientist.