New Delhi: The Supreme Court-appointed pollution watchdog recently implemented a Graded Response Action Plan or GRAP, which promises to take strict action every time particulate matter or PM 2.5 concentration reaches "very poor" or "severe" levels in Delhi and the National Capital Region. Experts, however, are saying that the short-term emergency measures the plan proposes cannot replace urgent long-term action to curb air pollution.
Under the Graded Response Action Plan, the pollution watchdog called the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority has the powers to order municipal bodies to charge four times standard parking tariff to discourage car owners from using their vehicles, among other measures.
According to Dr Arvind Kumar, a lung surgeon at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in New Delhi, PM 2.5 levels above 60 micrograms per cubic meter air are injurious to health. One microgram is one-millionth of a gram.
The GRAP, however, only proposes measures like shutting schools and the odd-even traffic plan when the PM 2.5 levels cross 250 micrograms per cubic meter air.
"This is already extremely hazardous for human health. We are already six times higher than the permissible standards," said Dr Kumar. "How much more bad do you need it to grow?"
Experts say that the warmer weather, lower stubble burning and favourable meteorological conditions have prevented the smog in Delhi from looking as dangerously polluted as it did last year, but this doesn't mean that air pollution is not a national emergency.
"It's a long-term issue. This is not something that can be done overnight with a small graded response action plan," said Barun Aggarwal, chief executive at BreatheEasy Consultants. "If we don't make this into an election issue we are never going to see the end result of clean air for our children."
According to Mr Aggarwal, a five-year plan of long-term measures is needed to seriously address air pollution. These measures can include improving public transport and introducing electric buses, shutting down coal power plants and upgrading fuel sources used in brick kilns, and overhauling the waste management system.
Moving to efficient Euro 6 standard fuel, removing subsidies on diesel, reducing tariffs on electric cars and speeding up construction of the east-west corridor so that trucks can circumvent Delhi is also urgently needed, experts say.
While the Delhi government's environment department told NDTV that it is "doing everything" to curb air pollution in Delhi, the EPCA disagrees.
"This is an emergency, but we are severely handicapped because... there is no government that is taking a view and doing the action needed for the long-term," said Sunita Narain, a member of the EPCA. "All that we are doing is literally the best we can do, but (the GRAP) is not a solution."