Air Pollution

[op-ed snap] Reflections from inside a toxic city


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Solutions given in the article against Pollution



  1. The article talks about the menace of pollution going on these days in Delhi
  2. And some possible solutions for it

Changes seen in last few decades

  1. In the past two decades much has changed
  2. The economics of pollution control is now a flourishing sub-discipline within the burgeoning field of environment studies
  3. Air quality monitoring has also become quite sophisticated with continuous monitoring of a whole vector of pollution indicators and readings available
  4. along with an air quality index (AQI), on a daily basis from multiple city locations

What is not changed?

  1. However, the regulatory framework has remained largely unchanged, still dependent on the “command and control” (C&C) approach instead of market-based instruments (MBI)
  2. The same fatal flaw that had rendered the pollution control Acts ineffective 20 years ago still applies today
  3. Consequences: The consequences are there for all to see
  4. Emission levels from individual sources like motor vehicles and industrial plants did come down progressively after standards were mandated in 1981
  5. Yet the ambient pollution load kept getting worse as the number of vehicles and factories kept growing

 Suspended particulate matter (SPM) in Delhi’s air

  1. During the past week Delhi is experiencing a pollution emergency
  2. For the main pollutant of concern, suspended particulate matter (SPM) the ambient pollution load has been about 7-10 times the specified standard and the overall AQI is well past the danger level

What can be done to avoid such crises in the future?

  1. The question is best addressed in four parts:
    (1) pollution drivers over which government has no control,
    (2) pollution sources which require inter-governmental cooperation
    (3) pollution sources which the government can regulate through MBIs
    (4) and sources or actions which it can directly control

What should be done to stop stubble burning?

  1. Following the “polluters pay” principle, some suggest that farmers burning stubble should be penalized to contain the burning
  2. This is a non-starter
  3. No state government would have either the political courage or the administrative capacity to impose such penalties on millions of farmers who are already under stress
  4. However, a reduction in stubble burning can also be achieved by the opposite policy of rewarding farmers who incur the cost of disposing of stubble by other means, e.g, processing it for manure

How could such a programme(of rewarding farmers) be funded without unduly burdening the fiscal?

  1. Since the National Capital Region (NCR) would be a major beneficiary of the programme, the Central government should lead with a centrally sponsored scheme, partnering with concerned states on a cost-sharing basis
  2. The Central share could be financed by cutting poorly targeted non-merit subsidies, like on fertilizers or kerosene
  3. The states’ share could be similarly financed by cutting their tax expenditures and non-merit subsidies, like on power

What should be done to counter the pollution from Motor vehicles?

  1. Motorized vehicles are the other important source of high SPM 2.5 pollution in Delhi, especially in winter
  2. As explained earlier, merely enforcing individual vehicle-emission standards will not help to achieve ambient air quality standards if the total number of vehicles grows without any limit
  3. To achieve ambient standards, it is essential to restrain the growth in number of vehicles
  4. How can that be done: To simply cap the total number of vehicles of a given type and ban further registration once a cap is reached is a blunt C&C policy which is neither practical nor desirable
  5. However, such an approach can be considered only if there are adequate alternative means of public transport like the mass transit systems seen in most modern cities
  6. For this, the rapidly expanding Delhi Metro network has to be complemented by other transport modes, especially for last-mile connectivity

The way forward

  1. The Delhi government cannot by itself fix the air pollution problem
  2. There is much that is beyond its control
  3. But there is also much that it can do in collaboration with other neighbouring states, and much that it can do on its own to help mitigate the problem
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