New Delhi: The Delhi government today launched with much ado its experiment to check rising levels of air pollution in the national capital. As the first day of the 15-day experiment draws to close, the air quality levels in the city do not offer a very reassuring picture.
According to the U.S. Embassy and Consulates' air quality monitors that measure airborne fine particulate matter (commonly referred to as PM 2.5) on its compound in Delhi, the Air Quality Index (AQI) measured at 5 pm on January 1 has been categorised as ‘very unhealthy'.
The AQI measured by the US Embassy at 5 PM in Delhi today stood at 221. As per the report, the health effects of this category of AQI correspond to “significant aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly; significant increase in respiratory effects in general population”.
The advisory states that “people with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid all physical activity outdoors” and everyone else should avoid “prolonged or heavy exertion”.
While the AQI measured at the US Embassy does portray a grim scenario, especially in the wake of the large-scale programme that Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal launched today, it is too early to judge the impact that the odd-even formula will eventually have based on today's data. The winter fog is also a major reason for poor air quality prevailing in and around the national capital, besides other contributors.
Another study by the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) had yesterday said that air quality in Delhi was expected to deteriorate over the next few days with a possible rise in the level of particulate matter due to fall in minimum temperature and calm wind movement.
SAFAR stations, located in various areas the city, also displayed 'very poor' real-time Air Quality Index. In no marked change from yesterday, the average levels of PM 2.5 was around 180 micrograms per cubic metre, three times above the safe limit of 60. The corresponding safe limit of PM 10 is 100.
There are over 84.5 lakh private vehicles in Delhi, which collectively contribute only 9 per cent to air pollution. These vehicles constitute 55 lakh two-wheelers and around 28,75,000 cars. The odd-even formula does not apply to two-wheelers and to cars that belong to the government, VIPs, police, embassies and defence establishments are not covered under the rule. Resultantly, only 5,30,000 cars of the 28,75,000 cars will be off the roads as a result of this formula.
In 2015-end, the Delhi High Court had rapped the state government and the Centre on its knuckles for not coming up with a specific plan to tackle rising air pollution levels in the city. “Living in Delhi is like living in a gas chamber,” the court had observed, sending the Delhi government into what critics have termed as a ‘knee-jerk reaction' that has not been looked into in detail.
While the implementation of the rule was by and large a success, there were a few violations too. A total of 117 challans were issued to violators till 5 pm today. This included 81 challans by the Traffic Police by 5 pm and 36 challans by the Transport Department by 4 pm today.