GRAP: Action NEEDED to Improve Air Quality

The Graded Response Action Plan or GRAP, which provides for preemptive steps to fight the winter air pollution in the national capital region (NCR), came into effect on 5th October 2022. The implementation is a consequence of the deterioration of the Air Quality Index (AQI) in Delhi NCR to below the ‘poor’ category. The plan […]

Air quality
Air quality

The Graded Response Action Plan or GRAP, which provides for preemptive steps to fight the winter air pollution in the national capital region (NCR), came into effect on 5th October 2022. The implementation is a consequence of the deterioration of the Air Quality Index (AQI) in Delhi NCR to below the ‘poor’ category. The plan requires curbs to be placed on activities known to have an adverse impact on air quality. The plan is the first of its kind. It imposes restrictions on activities that cause air pollution, not after the quality of air has already deteriorated but based on the forecasts or predictions of a fall in air quality in the upcoming  days. It marks a new beginning in the way governments address the increasing problem of poor air quality. According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Delhi’s AQI was at 211, the highest reading since 25th June of this year (AQI 230), triggering the implementation of stage 1 measures under GRAP. 

GRAP refers to a set of emergency measures that will come into force to prevent the further deterioration of air quality after it has reached a certain threshold. It is different from the original version of GRAP which first came into effect in 2017 and provided for measures that would come into force when the air quality had already fallen below a certain level. The current Plan is based on present air quality and meteorological forecasts by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) and the India Meteorological Department (IMD). It is implemented by the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM), which was set up in 2021 to take over Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority (EPCA)’s functions, and includes incremental and adaptable measures that will be updated and escalated according to changes in the AQI. 

Four Categories of
Air Quality

The upgraded GRAP classifies the quality of air into four categories—moderate to poor, very poor, severe, and severe + or emergency—based on the presence of particulate matter PM 2.5 and / or PM 10 (refer to table Air Quality Categories Under GRAP). Different levels of air quality based on the concentration of PM 2.5 and / or PM 10 in the air are categorised as stages of GRAP. Stage 1 comes into force when the AQI is in the poor category, while the second, third, and fourth stages are activated when the AQI reaches the very poor category, severe category, and severe + category, respectively.

Curbs and Measures

The CAQM revised the Graded Response Action Plan earlier this year, altering the approach to air quality management. The most recent measures under GRAP are categorised into four categories. Category 1, meant to deal with moderate to poor air quality, outline measures such as heavy fines on garbage burning, closure of or strict enforcement of pollution control regulations in brick kilns, mechanised sweeping and water sprinkling on roads, and a strict ban on firecrackers. Under the next category  to deal with very poor air quality, the use of diesel generators is prohibited, parking fees are quadrupled, and bus and metro services are increased. To prevent hospitalisation and fatalities from poor ambient air, those with respiratory and cardiac conditions are to be advised to restrict outdoor movement. 

The third stage undertakes stricter measures to prevent the ambient air quality from falling to severe levels. Brick kilns, hot mix plants, and stone crushers are required to be shut down and natural gas to be made the main source of power generation. The public is to be encouraged to use public transport through differential rates and mechanised cleaning and sprinkling of water on roads is to be increased. In the last stage, in the event that air quality is predicted to fall to severe + or emergency levels, heavy vehicles like trucks are to be prohibited from entering into Delhi (except for essential commodities), construction work is to be suspended and an odd/even scheme for plying private vehicles is to come into force. The last stage also provides for the government to set up a task force to take a call on any additional steps, including shutting down schools and colleges.

While GRAP requires concerted action by all the stakeholders, including the central and state governments, to work together to improve air quality, the Delhi government has announced other measures as well to ensure Delhi is not shrouded in smog like previous winters. Delhi’s Environment Minister Gopal Rai recently announced a month-long campaign to check dust pollution at construction sites. 586 teams from 12 government departments will monitor the compliance of pollution norms at construction sites in Delhi. The Delhi government has also set up a Green War Room to monitor measures being taken to mitigate air pollution levels, and to track AQI and instances of stubble burning. The Green War Room began functioning on 3rd October 2022 and will operate round-the-clock to monitor data and complaints received via the Green Delhi App, where people can report instances of activities causing air pollution. On 30th September 2022, the state government announced a 15-point ‘winter action plan’ to deal with the air quality woes the city faces each winter and appealed to neighbouring states to take measures to curb air pollution.

Charting the course of GRAP

GRAP was first formulated in 2017 by the Environmental Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) and the Delhi government and dates back to the 2016 Supreme Court of India (SC) verdict in the MC Mehta v/s Union of India case. The SC had directed state authorities to take incremental steps to maintain ambient air quality standards in Delhi NCR. In its initial phase from 2017 to 2021, the plan provided for measures in three stages with the fourth stage ‘severe + or emergency’ being a recent addition. Till October 2020, GRAP was implemented by the SC-appointed EPCA. The CAQM now oversees the implementation of GRAP based on the forecast of air quality in Delhi and calls for coordination between 13 agencies from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Rajasthan. 

The broad range of factors that affect the air quality of any region require integrated action to be addressed in varying sectors, ranging from transportation to industry, and power generation to construction. For successful implementation of GRAP, the various stakeholders are responsible for overseeing the respective measures in each category. State governments, state pollution control boards, traffic police, Central Public Works Department (CPWD), and Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisations (PESOs) from each state are the main stakeholders in charge of enforcing these measures. 

Deteriorating Air Quality is
an All-India Concern

Between 2012 and 2021, PM 10 levels in Delhi have fallen by around 40 per cent and the PM 2.5 levels by around 31 per cent, according to data presented by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC). According to the CAQM, the recent deterioration in air quality is a result of “localised influence” such as a large number of effigies being burnt on the occasion of Dussehra and during political protests, a finding reiterated by the IITM. According to IITM, there have been no substantial changes in parameters like temperature, wind speed, and emissions from farm fires in the run-up to 5th October, which might cause this spike in air pollution levels; instead “hyperlocal emissions’’ have impacted the air quality. However, as the winter progresses, a drop in temperature levels, reduced wind speeds, and increased fog are likely to worsen the situation. 

In 2021, IQAir, a Switzerland based climate group and technology partner of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), ranked three Indian cities in the top ten cities across the world with worst air quality indices. Delhi (AQI 556) topped the list, followed by Kolkata (AQI 177) at fourth position and Mumbai (AQI 169) at sixth position. India’s average AQI in 2021 was 151 and was ranked fifth among the worst air qualities globally in 2021. Metro cities in India have been witnessing a spike in PM 2.5 and PM 10 levels over the years. Increased industrial activity, increasing demand for power, and the exponential rise in the number of vehicles on the roads, despite expansion in public transport, have been some of the major factors contributing to deteriorating air quality levels in cities across the country. While localised factors like sea and land breeze in coastal cities such as Mumbai help disperse polluting particles and mitigate poor air quality, landlocked areas such as Delhi-NCR do not find similar respite. 

In 2020, all six metro cities in India (with the exception of Chennai) saw a rise in air pollution levels. IQAir also reports that 50 per cent of pollution in India comes from industries, followed by 27 per cent by vehicles, 17 per cent from crop burning, and 7 per cent from domestic cooking. While the availability of cleaner fuels and increased usage of Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) in recent years has helped reduce pollution in residential areas of Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow, and Bhopal, a lot more needs to be done at the institutional, public, and individual levels to ensure residents of major cities and eventually all regions can lead better quality lives.