Northern states gasping for clean air, authorities tighten noose around violators

New Delhi, Nov 18 (PTI) As the northern states in the country are gasping for clean air for the last 22 days, the central authorities on Monday tightened the noose around those violating anti-pollution norms.

While the ministry of environment and pollution watchdog CPCB held a high-level meeting with chief secretaries of Delhi and neighbouring states to intensify crackdown on those responsible for illegal construction activities and industrial pollution, the Supreme Court appointed committee EPCA asked Delhi and neighbouring states to step up surveillance to check local sources of pollution.

Amid slew of measures being taken by authorities to fight toxic air, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said that pollution levels have come down in the national capital and therefore, there was no need to extend the odd-even car rationing scheme.

Delhi has been choking in toxic air since Diwali last month.

The air quality in the city had plummeted to 'very poor' after revellers brazenly flouted the SC-enforced two-hour limit for bursting crackers.

In a high-level meeting chaired by the secretary of environment ministry C K Mishra on Monday, it was decided that the ministry and the CPCB would closely monitor the air quality in the capital and NCR and take stringent action against the erring organisations and individuals.

The meeting comes three days after several MPs and top officials of environment ministry skipped the parliamentary standing committee meet to discuss the rising levels of air pollution in the national capital.

As a measure to bring down the level of pollutants in the air, Monday's meeting discussed a slew of measures which including greening and paving dust areas in Delhi and NCR by August next year, use of technology and reviewing stubble burning in neighbouring states.

The air pollution in the national capital was so toxic after Diwali that the Environmental Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) had declared a public health emergency in the Delhi-NCR and advised people, especially children and the aged, to refrain from venturing outside their homes.

In a letter to the chief secretaries of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana on Monday, Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority Chairman Bhure Lal said hot mix plants, ready mix plants and stone crushers will continue to remain closed in Delhi-NCR.

The apex court had on November 4 banned construction and demolition activities in the region till further notice.

The EPCA chief also said the India Meteorological Department has alerted that the next few days-- from Tuesday to Thursday-- will witness slow wind speed and very little ventilation.

Under such circumstances, dispersion of pollutants will not happen and there is a likelihood that the air quality will slip back into the 'very poor' or even the 'severe' category, he said.

The Centre and Delhi governments have been at loggerheads over the issue of pollution with Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar blaming Kejriwal for politicising the issue, and the Delhi chief minister blaming stubble burning for the repeated episodes of smog and harmful spike in pollution in Delhi-NCR.

The air quality in Delhi improved marginally on Monday but remained in the 'poor' category for the second consecutive day.

At 9 am on Monday, the air quality index (AQI) in the national capital stood at 207 against an AQI of 254 at the same time on Sunday.

An AQI between 201 and 300 is considered 'poor', 301-400 'very poor' and 401-500 'severe'.

Experts said strong winds due to western disturbance have helped disperse pollutants in Delhi-NCR and other parts of north India.

On Sunday, the air quality index at 4 pm stood at 215, which falls in the 'poor' category. PTI AG RHL