Large swathes of north India and the National Capital Region, in particular, record a marked deterioration in air quality with the onset of winter. State governments have tried different ways to counter this deterioration, including through regulatory diktats. So far, durable success has not been achieved. The Centre informed the Supreme Court on Monday that it will soon promulgate an ordinance to establish a statutory body to oversee efforts to check air pollution in the NCR.
All the scientific studies of air pollution in the NCR have shown that the deterioration is on account of a handful of factors.Three important contributors to poor air quality are the burning of paddy stubble in the NCR and surrounding regions, dust and density of vehicular traffic. So far, regulatory efforts and stringent laws have failed to noticeably impact these factors. That is primarily because the underlying causes are economic. Stubble burning and vehicular density need economic solutions rather than heavy-handed regulation. Investing in better public transport infrastructure and giving farmers an economic incentive to avoid burning stubble will provide more durable solutions.
It is not as if stubble burning is legal or the Delhi government has not experimented with restricting private vehicles through its ‘odd-even’ schemes. The proposed statutory body should learn lessons from past failures and devise ways to address the underlying economic causes.