Even as some farmers in Punjab and Haryana are continuing to burn stubble, which is blamed for the severe air pollution in the National Capital Region (NCR) during the months of September to November, the Union government has emphasised its commitment to address various issues related to air quality and pollution.

However, along with the initiatives taken by the central government, the participation of the society is an imperative, said Union environment minister Harsh Vardhan.

Launching the air quality early warning system for Delhi on Monday, Vardhan said that with an outlay of Rs 1151.80 crore under the new central sector scheme, the Centre has already released Rs 591.65 crore to Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi for the promotion of agricultural mechanisation for in-situ management of crop residue.

Calling the 41 teams of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) the “eyes and ears” of the ministry, Vardhan stated that these teams have been deployed in Delhi and NCR cities of Ghaziabad, Noida, Gurugram and Faridabad to monitor and supervise dust mitigation and other air pollution abatement measures to ensure effective compliance.

He pointed out that Badarpur thermal power plant is being closed from 15 October and the number of mechanised road sweeping machines in Delhi will increase from 52 to 64 by the end of November. He said the use of water sprinklers and the opening of the Western Peripheral Expressway will bring about a further reduction in pollution.

In his remarks, Union environment secretary C K Mishra said the number of “good”, “satisfactory” and “moderate” days is 157 in 2018 (up to 13 October) compared to 150 in 2017 and 107 in 2016 in the corresponding period. He added that similarly, the number of “poor”, “very poor” and “severe” days has come down from 167 in 2016 to 136 in 2017 to 129 in 2018 (up to 13 October) during the corresponding period.

Comparing the PM10 and PM 2.5 levels, Mishra underlined that both PM10 and PM 2.5 have shown a significant reduction in the winter months (September-October) this year compared to last year. There is a 46 per cent reduction in the PM10 levels in September compared to last year and a 15 per cent reduction in October. There is a 28 per cent reduction in the PM2.5 levels in September compared to last year and a 22 per cent reduction in October.

Mishra also underlined that the number of active fire detections this year is less in comparison to 2017 and 2016 till 14 October (from 1 September). The numbers are 75 per cent lower than last year in Punjab and 40 per cent lower in the case of Haryana.

The secretary informed that the Eastern Peripheral Expressway has been operational since last week of May and steps are being taken for 100 per cent diversion of nondestined trucks entering Delhi.

Mishra also said the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has added 906 new coaches. Out of this, 704 coaches have already been commissioned and remaining 206 are under commissioning stage. 427 AC buses (198 Electric + 229 CNG) are being added by DMRC as last mile connectivity by November 30, 2018. He also pointed out that out of 1131 industrial units in Delhi, about 950 units have switched over to PNG and the remaining have been issued closure directions.

Among some of the other steps taken by the Union ministry, 722 brick kilns in Delhi and the NCR have switched over to the “zig-zag” technology; brick kilns that have not converted to this technology will not be allowed to operate in Delhi-NCR; for effective control of dust during winters, 400 water sprinklers will be deployed by municipal corporations in Delhi; and adherence to standard operating procedures (SoPs) at construction sites and implementation of dust mitigation measures by all construction agencies has been mandated.