Public Health Emergency in Delhi-NCR: What Do EPCA Guidelines Say?

Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) has declared a public health emergency in Delhi NCR in light of the hazardous air quality in the region. It has notified a complete ban on construction activities and hot mix plants and stone crushers in Delhi, Faridabad, Gurugram, Ghaziabad, Noida and Greater Noida will remain closed till morning of November 5.

On 31 October, Delhi Deputy CM Manish Sisodia had also said that schools would be shut if the ‘need arises’.

Air quality deteriorated further on 31 October, Thursday — reaching the ‘severe plus’ level. In a letter addressed to the chief secretaries of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi, EPCA chairperson Bhure Lal said,

Bhure Lal“We have to take this as a public health emergency as air pollution will have adverse health impact on all, particularly our children.”

A similar public health emergency was also declared in 2017. The EPCA had issued the following directives to the state governments of Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and UP then:

  • Closure of all hot mix plants
  • Closure of all stone crushers
  • Immediately intensify public transport service, by ensuring there are more buses on the road, which are run with reliable service.
  • Immediately increase the frequency of service, including deploying more coaches and the introduction of lower fares during off-peak hours during this severe period
  • All state pollution boards to immediately impose fines on all road -constructing agencies where there are inadequate dust control measures.
  • Intensification of mechanized road sweeper and sprinkling of water.
  • Continue ban on generator sets in Delhi, with exceptions only as defined by DPCC for essential services
  • Immediate enhancement of parking fee by 4 times and deposit of additional funds in dedicated parking fund with municipalities
  • Immediate stop all use of unapproved fuels in Delhi and all use of coal and firewood in hotels and eateries
  • Intensify traffic management in all hot spots and increase deployment of traffic police across the city.
  • Intensity the enforcement of non-destined goods traffic into Delhi by physically checking all vehicles and turning them back and putting out a public announcement of the numbers turned back.
  • Inform schools to maintain a strict health advisory and to limit all exposure of children to outdoor activities.

When air pollution spiked further, more directions were issued to the Delhi government to stop the entry of truck traffic into Delhi (except essential commodities) and pause construction activities. Schools were directed to be shut for three days.

Based on this experience, the following lessons were highlighted to the governments:

  • The need for better weather forecasts so that agencies have advance notice of the measures that need to be taken. Based on this, IMD has improved its monitoring, but this is a work in progress.
  • The need for a vastly strengthened system of health advisories to people to take preventive action. Governments have taken steps on this. But there is a need for much greater awareness and information dissemination.
  • The need for deterrence so that implementation is strengthened. There has been inadequate action on this.

The EPCA had issued ‘urgent directions’ under its Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) on 25 October this year, asking the Delhi government to check stubble burning from the states of Punjab and Haryana, implement the SC order on firecrackers, a two-hour pause to construction activities from 26-30 October, and shutting coal-based and illegal industries.

(With inputs from PTI)

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