The Delhi government told the Supreme Court in an affidavit on Monday that it was willing to consider a lockdown in the national capital to reduce pollution levels if other NCR states agreed to do the same, but multiple experts believe that such a move will achieve little in terms of controlling bad air, cause major economic disruption, and result in an emissions rebound once it is lifted.
The notion of a lockdown was originally made by the Supreme Court on Saturday, when it was taking stock of the Capital’s annual air emergency, which has once again resulted in a hazardous haze surrounding the city, despite steps by the Delhi and Union governments failing to contain the surge. The concept of a lockdown was made specifically for Delhi, with the premise that it would reduce pollution from vehicles and factories, as well as road dust.
However, analysts say that this is merely a reactionary approach that is unlikely to result in any change now that the situation has deteriorated. When there is a forecast of a reduction in air quality, Mukesh Khare of IIT Delhi, who was also a former expert member of the now-defunct Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control Authority), suggested that pre-emptive measures such as lockdowns can be employed.
“We have forecasting algorithms that can predict when the air quality will deteriorate and the projected concentration levels.” If necessary, Grap (Graded Response Action Plan) measures and a lockdown should be predicated on that. It’s even conceivable to enter data from the Covid-19 lockdown period into a decision support system and estimate the potential reduction,” he said.
The Delhi government’s senior lawyer, Rahul Mehra, told the court on Monday that a lockdown would be useless unless it was applied across the adjoining NCR regions in UP and Haryana.
The lockdown plan, according to another expert, is a “knee-jerk approach” that ignores what’s really needed: focused year-long efforts. “If that happens, it’s a knee-jerk reaction. Once the lockdown is removed, those pollution sources will reappear, and you’ll be left with only an extreme and temporary remedy. “What we need is year-round action,” he said, declining to be identified.
A third expert expressed concern about the expense of such interventions, particularly when there is little scientific proof that they will result in considerable benefits. “It will create a bad precedent, demonstrating that we are unable to cope with pollution spikes at this time of year.” Even if a lockdown is imposed, we can’t predict the meteorological conditions that would be at play,” Santosh Harish, a fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, said (CPR).
The prohibition on construction activities in the Capital, according to Thaneshwar Adigaur, secretary of the Delhi Asangathit Nirman Mazdoor Union, has already caused uncertainty in the sector, and employees may return to their villages, as they did when the Covid-19 curfew was enforced last year.
“Workers are concerned that the building activity prohibition would be extended because the air pollution condition is unlikely to improve,” said Inamul Haq, a private labour contractor in Delhi. The ban has been extended in the past as well. After much struggle, I was able to reclaim labourers from Bihar, West Bengal, and other states. I’m not sure how much longer this will go on.”
If the prohibition is extended, Haq says he may consider sending the labourers to other cities.
Traders were also opposed to the idea of a lockdown. “We hope there isn’t a lockdown right now since it will have a significant impact on businesses.” The rush has only recently returned to the markets, and sales have increased. The continuity will be broken if there is a lockdown now. “Traders have suffered a lot during the pandemic,” said Atul Bhargava, head of the New Delhi Traders Association in Connaught Place.
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