The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and a Supreme Court-appointed environment body have recommended “free of cost public transport” in Delhi for the next few days as the region faces a “pollution emergency”. The final decision to make bus and Metro rides free will come from the Delhi’s Lt Governor Anil Baijal, who is likely to hold an emergency meeting with environment authorities, officials said. The CPCB, which held an emergency task force meeting here, told IANS that a “pollution-clock” was being updated on its portal to monitor the situation closely and impose a “pollution emergency” if PM2.5 remained at the current levels.

To impose “pollution emergency”, as recommended under the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), the major pollutant PM2.5, or particles with diameter less than 2.5mm, must stay at 300 units or more for 48 hours or PM10 should be at 500 units or more for the same duration. According to CPCB officials, the pollution emergency clock had been ticking for the past 24 hours and PM2.5 currently was 18 to 30 times the safe range in all the areas across Delhi-NCR after noon. By evening, this has been upgraded to “beyond severe” levels. Earlier, the apex court-appointed Environment Pollution Prevention and Control Authority (EPCA) barred the entry of trucks to Delhi and levied a parking fee four times the normal rates. But there have been issues with the implementation as the “stakeholders fail or deny to implement the directives for various reasons”, officials told IANS.

“Delhi could see pollution emergency in the next 24 hours and we are keeping a close watch… We had recommended to EPCA free public transport, implementation of odd-even scheme, stopping movements of all trucks,” CPCB Member Secretary A. Sudhakar told IANS. “There is a need for augmentation of public transport and free of cost public transport is to encourage people to stop using their vehicles,” Sudhakar added. EPCA Chairperson Bhure Lal has spoken with the Chief Secretaries of the neighbouring states, asking them to stay ready for implementing the emergency. “I had spoken with the Chief Secretaries of Delhi, Punjab and Haryana and given them a notice, asking to be ready for emergency… The Chief Secretaries held a meeting with the heads of the departments concerned and are in talks with the local authorities,” Bhure Lal told IANS.

As Delhi-NCR passes through one of the worst smog situations, which is likely to prevail for at least two more days, emergency steps with several restrictions are being put in place by EPCA. However, officials both at CPCB and EPCA say that while they had been passing orders and instructions, the same were not being adhered to or enforced by the implementing bodies. “There have been failures and there is no doubt… We have been issuing instructions and recommendations but there are issues with implementation, like farmers in Punjab are not bothered (about stubble burning) at all,” said Sudhakar.

“EPCA passes orders and is the implementing authority but it cannot ensure their enforcement… The main issue is that the stakeholder, including the local agencies, accept the orders but then fail to implement,” said Polash Mukherjee, Research Associate at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), an EPCA member.