In an interview with Urban Update, Dr Harshvardhan talks about his plan to improve air quality in metro and small towns. He also explains other initiatives of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to address environmental concerns. The Minister also speaks about the Bonn Conference and its impact on global efforts on mitigating climate change impacts.
Q.1 Delhi’s air quality is the worst in the world. It has become a regular affair. There is a tendency of different agencies to blame each other. Why all governments, state, ULBs and central government, are not coming together to address this issue seriously?Is there any consultative mechanism within the government for inter-ministerial coordination and with state governments so that all can come on a single platform to take right actions to address environmental issues?
A—Regular co-ordination meetings are held in the Ministry at official and ministerial level with Delhi and other state governments to avoid the emergency situation. In this regard several meetings have been held this year under my chairmanship. Environment Ministers of the states and senior state functionaries including chief secretaries and additional chief secretaries attended these meetings. In the month of September a stakeholder consultation meeting was attended by industries, industry associations, civil society groups and academia. In addition, in the month of October another meeting was held with state functionaries of Delhi NCR. During air pollution emergency recently in the month of November various emergency meetings were called to address the issue. Meeting was chaired by Secretary (EF&CC) involving EPCA and CPCB, the two regulatory arms of the Ministry and subsequently MOS held meeting with EPCA to review the situation. Inter-ministerial meeting was also held on 10.11.2017 under the chairmanship of Secretary (EF&CC) involving various ministries and state government wherein measures to address the air pollution emergency were discussed and finalized. Various measures were discussed and accordingly ban on construction, sprinkling of water, ban on entry of trucks, etc. which are there under GRAP were finalized for immediate implementation. In addition, the status is also reviewed regularly by Chairman, CPCB and Hon’ble Lieutenant Governor, Delhi involving ULBs and State Government.
Q.2 Do you really think there is no need to ‘panic’ or take desperate measure to improve the Capital’s air quality?
A-A Graded Response Action Plan for control of air pollution in Delhi and NCR region has already been notified to address the issue and avoid it from going to emergency level. This plan specifies actions required for controlling particulate matter (PM emissions from various sources and prevent PM10 and PM2.5 levels to go beyond ‘moderate’ national Air Quality Index (AQI) category. The measures are cumulative. Emergency and Severe levels include cumulatively all other measures listed in the lower levels of AQI including Very Poor, Poor and Moderate. Actions listed in the Poor to Moderate category need to be implemented throughout the year.Control of pollution is an ongoing process and results are achieved over a period of time. In general, there has been improvement in air quality in Delhi in 2017, in comparison to 2016.
Q.3 Is there any financially feasible action plan to stop farmers from burning farm stubbles?
As part of Clean Air Initiative of CII-NITI Ayog, a Task Force was constituted under the chairmanship of Sh. A. K. Mehta, Addl. Secretary, MoEF&CC. As part of the Task Force on the basis of various meetings and consultations, our ministry has come up with report ‘Action Plan for Biomass Management’, which has detailed out the financial and technological mechanisms for addressing the issue of crop residue burning. The report has been shared with state government for implementation. A Sub-Committee under the Chairmanship of Secretary, MoRTH to suggest remedial measures for crop residue burning, including both in-situ options such as use of innovative farm implements like Happy Seeder, Straw Management system, Bio-char, Prali-char, etc., and ex-situ options like biomass based power plants, co-firing with coal in thermal plants etc. The Action Plan is expected to take into account technological and financial options in this regard.
Q.4 Though the focus is always on the NCR, we tend to ignore pollution in small cities and towns. Like Varanasi, a few days ago, was declared the most polluted city in India. According to you, what could be the role of Urban Local Bodies in addressing this issue?
Air pollution issue is being addressed in a comprehensive manner for the whole country though because of recent emergency, since last few years efforts have been more on Delhi NCR. A state-wise list of 98 non-attainment cities as formulated by CPCB is already available. Efforts and action plans are already underway for all these non-attainment cities. Varanasi falls in this list of non-attainment cities. Urban Local Bodies are being involved in implementing the actions such as control of air pollution from construction, burning of waste, etc.
Q.5 According to a study by University of Maryland, SO2 pollution in China declined by 75% in the last decade while in India, it increased by 50%. Despite that, recently Ministry of Power wrote to your ministry to delay enforcement in some cases to as late as 2022. Your take.
Emission standards for power plants are for control of SOx, NOx and particulate matter. As informed by Ministry of Power, in order to meet SOx standards, Fuel Gas De-sulpharisation (FGD) technology is required to be installed which requires extra space. Accordingly, power plants which were established before 2003 could not install this technology. Hence it has been made mandatory only for the power plants which came up after 2003. Further all power plants can’t be upgraded simultaneously since it requires shutting down power plants for three to six months and this would entail a complete black out. The technology would be implemented in the various power plants in a phased manner. The process has already been initiated and it is expected that it would be completed by the year 2022.
Q.6 Government of India has decided to advance introduction of BS VI fuel to April 2018 in the NCR. Do you think this will help reduce the pollution level? What are the challenges in implementation?
Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has announced advancing introduction of BS-VI fuel from April 2020 to April 2018 in Delhi. The leapfrogging from BS IV to BS VI for whole country was planned for April 2017 to April 2020. The commitment of availability of BS-VI vehicle from April 2020 from automanufacturers is still not available. The introduction of higher grade fuel will be beneficial only if it is done in tandem with the rollout of BS-VI compliant vehicles. As per available reports, using BS-VI fuel in the current BS-IV engines or, conversely, running BS-VI engines on the current-grade fuel, may be ineffective in curbing vehicular pollution to major extent, and may damage the engine in the long run. The main difference between BS-IV and BS-VI (which is comparable to Euro 6) is in the amount of Sulphur in the fuel. BS-VI fuel is estimated to bring around an 80% reduction in Sulphur content — from 50 parts per million (ppm) to 10 ppm. Also, according to reports, NOx emissions from diesel cars are expected to come down by nearly 70% and, from cars with petrol engines, by 25%.
“Our ministry has come up with report ‘Action Plan for Biomass Management’, which has detailed out the financial and technological mechanisms for addressing the issue of crop residue burning. The report has been shared with state government for implementation.”
Q.7 Indian government is building 100 smart cities. Is your ministry planning to give some kind of guidelines so that these new cities remain safe of such hazards?
Smart Cities Programme is being dealt with by Ministry of Urban Development. No specific guidelines are being planned by this Ministry. However, the smart cities programme will be guided by Ministry’s policies and legislations on pollution and waste.
Q.8 We would like to know how much fund Government of India has allocated to tackle air pollution in India. What is the action plan?
For pollution abatement BE of Rs 20 crore is available under Pollution Abatement Scheme and Rs 74.43 crore is for CPCB. This includes funds for air pollution.
Q.9 India has constantly been arguing on the issue of climate change that developed countries must share the burden. After President Trump withdrew support for climate deal, how do you think this deal will go ahead; especially from financial contribution point of view?
India remains committed towards climate action. This has been reiterated by Hon’ble PM at various international forums. India’s climate actions stem from its traditional ethos and commitment to preserve the environment for the current and future generations. The concerns for the global “commons” has been in the forefront of Government’s developmental efforts including thrust on renewable energy, smart cities, sustainable transport, climate adoptive agricultural practices, better irrigation and water conservation measures and so on. As far as climate finance is concerned, majority of India’s climate actions are funded from budgetary sources. USA withdrawal may have some impact on availability of public climate finance. Other developed countries will have to step up their efforts. Paris Agreement also includes a wide variety of sources of financing, however the certainty about availability and scale of these funds in the long-term needs to be assured.
Q.10 Even at the Bonn Conference, negotiations went all the way to the wire. Do you think, Paris deal is still on course?
Bonn Conference, the COP 23, was a successful meeting for India. We were able to move ahead on all the agenda items and were able to bring pre-2020 actions and commitments of developed countries to the forefront. India will continue to engage in constructive negotiations on development of work programme for implementation of the Paris Agreement.The Paris Agreement is a historic treaty which was negotiated and adopted in good faith by all the Parties in an inclusive and transparent manner. World leaders have reiterated their commitment towards successful implementation of Paris Agreement. The leaders of G20 except the USA, through the summit held in July 2017,stated that the Paris Agreement is irreversible and also reaffirmed their strong commitment to the Paris Agreement, moving swiftly towards its full implementation. Therefore, the agreement is on course.
Q.11 Solid waste management is one of the integral components of Swachh Bharat Mission. What challenges do you think our local bodies face today to handle different kinds of waste? Your ministry has many manuals. Are these followed in letter and spirit? And, if not, what could be done to build capacity of ULBs?
The Community participation is must for efficient SWM,which was the responsibility of the municipal authorities wherein they were required to organise awareness programmes and undertake programmes for community participation in a phased manner. The municipal authorities, with no institutional and financial support, failed to undertake such programmes and educate citizens on the requirements of handling waste and proper segregation practices at the household, shops and establishmentlevels. To achieve the objectives of Swachh Bharat Mission, the Ministry initiated a review of the rules and in the year 2016, comprehensively revised the waste management rules under Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to introduce a fresh regulatory framework for sustainable and environmentally sound management of waste including Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016.The new rules provide for ways and means to minimize waste generation, setting of sustainable waste management system involving state urban development departments and adoption of extended producer responsibility by the producers, importers and brand owners for waste collection and their channelization to gainful utilisation viz. recycling, recovery, and reuse.The Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, notified by the Ministry are comprehensive in nature. The Rules mandated various ministries, government departments, municipalities and even village panchayats to abide by certain activities and timelines for effective implementation of the Rules.