The government on Thursday asked its largest utility NTPC Ltd to blend crop residue with coal at its power plants, a move that should help reduce pollution in Delhi as well as supplement farm incomes.
Under the plan to fight farm fires, NTPC will buy waste from farmers and use it to make biomass pellets, and fuel at its power plants will be 10% biomass and 90% coal.
“On an average a farmer gets around two tonnes of stubble or straw in an acre. NTPC will bring a tender to buy the pellets of this farm residue in next few days at a rate of Rs 5500 per tonne,” power minister RK Singh said on Thursday.
As much as 35 million tonnes of farm stubble is burnt in Punjab and Haryana to make room for the winter crop.
Earlier in the day, a raft of emergency measures rolled out to fight pollution in Delhi, including a ban on construction and a four-fold hike in parking fees, was withdrawn after the city’s air quality stabilised to “very poor”.
The Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution (Control and Prevention) Authority (EPCA) also rolled back the ban on entry of trucks into Delhi, although pollution levels rose marginally on Thursday and scientists warned air quality could deteriorate over the next three days.
Thursday’s Air Quality Index was 363, compared to 486 on November 9 when some of the measures were announced. The “severe” air quality that day was also the worst for Delhi this season.
According to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data, the level of particulate matter, which was since November 12, began to shoot back up early Thursday.
Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal approved the lifting of the weeklong emergency measures, barring the one on construction because the matter is listed for hearing at the National Green Tribunal on Friday. Respective agencies also issues notifications announcing the withdrawal of the emergency steps.
EPCA chairperson Bhure Lal told the chief secretaries of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana that the parking fee hike was being lifted due to “lack of enforcement” and the absence of an adequate public transport system. He also ordered the lifting of a ban on hot mix plants.
Earlier in the day, the city’s pollution woes also resonated in the Delhi High Court which asked the local government, the CPCB and Delhi Pollution Control Committee to clarify how they intended to spend money collected as green cess and other similar funds to mitigate air pollution in the capital.
“We want to know what is being done with the funds,” said a bench of Justice S Ravindra Bhat and Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva after senior advocate Kailash Vasudev, who is assisting the court as amicus curiae, submitted that over Rs700 crore were collected as green cess from sale of cars of 2000 cc or more engine capacity.
Meanwhile, a report from the government-run System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) said dust storms from Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia were the main reason behind the week-long smog in Delhi that started on November 7.
On November 8, when the AQI was an alarming 478, SAFAR said the contribution of dust storms from West Asia and the Gulf region was as much as 40%, whereas that of stubble burning was 25%. The rest was from local factors such as vehicular pollution.