The Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) stands as a crucial framework designed to address the persistent and escalating challenge of air pollution in India's National Capital Region (NCR), encompassing Delhi and its surrounding areas. Enacted in 2017 by the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEF&CC), GRAP serves as a comprehensive set of guidelines and measures to curb the effects of air pollution on public health and the environment. This strategic plan delineates a series of actions and interventions that multiple government agencies are tasked with implementing to prevent the deterioration of air quality in the Delhi-NCR region.
The implementation of GRAP falls under the purview of the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM), an authoritative body established to address air quality issues and enforce measures to combat pollution effectively. By providing a structured and graded approach, GRAP ensures that the severity of the measures aligns with the prevailing levels of air pollution, allowing for a timely and targeted response to safeguard the well-being of the residents in the NCR.
Over the past week, Delhi has grappled with an unprecedented and alarming surge in air pollution, reaching staggering levels on the air quality index (AQI). With readings soaring as high as 402, the city is recently confronting its worst air quality crisis. Recognising the severity of the situation, the Commission for Air Quality Management took decisive action by invoking Stage III of the Graded Response Action Plan on November 2, 2023.
In adherence to the GRAP, a comprehensive set of anti-air pollution measures activated during the winter months, the CAQM has categorically outlined stages of adverse air quality. These stages range from Stage 1 or 'poor' when the AQI falls within 201-300, to Stage 2 or 'very poor' within the 301-400 range, and further to Stage 3 or 'severe' when the AQI spans 401-450. The most critical level is Stage 4 or 'severe+' when the AQI surpasses 450, signifying a dire need for urgent and stringent action.
Notably, the CAQM, established as an autonomous body dedicated to improving air quality in Delhi and its adjoining areas, made pivotal changes to the GRAP last year and reiterated modifications in July. The activation of GRAP this season underscores the severity of the air quality situation, emphasising the importance of a coordinated and proactive approach to combatting air pollution in the region.
The recent amendments to GRAP signal a heightened commitment to combat air pollution, particularly in the context of vehicular emissions and the use of certain fuels. Notably, the revised plan now imposes stringent restrictions on the operation of overage vehicles, recognising the substantial contribution of older vehicles to the overall air pollution levels. This move underscores the importance of phasing out vehicles that do not comply with contemporary emission standards, emphasising the need for an environmentally conscious approach to transportation.
In an earnest plea to the citizens of NCR, the CAQM is actively encouraging cooperation in implementing the Graded Response Action Plan. The Citizen Charter under GRAP outlines crucial steps that individuals can take to contribute to the mitigation of air pollution. Citizens are advised to embrace sustainable transportation methods such as walking or cycling for short distances. They are also choosing cleaner commutes, such as ride-sharing or utilising public transport, not using coal and wood for heating purposes, etc.
The invocation of Stage III underscores the urgent need for comprehensive and stringent measures to address the deteriorating air quality in Delhi and the surrounding regions. This move not only reflects the immediate concern for the health and well-being of the residents but also highlights the gravity of the air pollution challenge that demands a concerted effort from various stakeholders to implement effective strategies and policies. The situation underscores the imperative for sustained efforts, both short-term emergency actions and long-term systemic changes, to combat and mitigate the factors contributing to Delhi’s air quality crisis.