The controversial odd-even formula for private cars in Delhi can be automatically enforced and all construction activities halted if air pollution breaches the PM2.5 emergency level of 300 micrograms per cubic metre for 48 hours at a stretch, following the Supreme Court's acceptance of the Central government's graded action plan on Friday.
The court asked the Centre to notify the action plan, with a bench of Chief Justice T S Thakur and Justices A K Sikri and S A Bobde - which earlier banned sale of firecrackers in the national capital region - saying urgent steps were needed to tackle the pollution crisis.
The court asked the Centre, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Environment Pollution (Control and Prevention) Authority (EPCA) to enforce the graded action plan that will be pegged to various categories of the Air Quality Index (AQI). The Centre has recommended the odd-even formula even though CPCB's reports said the measure, in the absence of other steps, did not have a significant impact on pollution.
Acording to the AQI, pollution levels of PM2.5 crossing the 300 mark (five times above safe standard) and persisting for 48 hours or above will constitute an emergency trigger and the protocol will come into force. The measures will be cumulative. For example, in case of an emergency, the measures already in place for lower levels of pollution will continue while fresh ones will be added, depending on the situation.
The Centre's report also recommends banning diesel generator sets and increasing parking fee by 3-4 times in case of 'very poor' air quality, when PM2.5 is between 121 and 250. It said that schools should suspend all outdoor activities and sports events during severe and very poor levels of pollution.
In its report to the SC, the Centre favoured enforcement of the odd-even formula in such cases and also suggested setting up a high powered task force, consisting of officers of the Centre and Delhi government and health experts, that would be empowered to take measures to reduce the pollution level.
"A task force will be set up at the central level comprising representatives of CPCB, Centre, Delhi and concerned state's Pollution Control Board, Met department, health experts and other stakeholders. It will be headed by CPCB. The taskforce will meet at least once a week or daily, if necessary, during peak winter months, to review air quality status including weather and air quality forecast," the report said.
The Centre filed its response after the apex court had slammed it for not framing a disaster management plan for the pollution crisis in the city.
In case the pollution level is severe (when PM 2.5 levels are above 250), the Centre recommended closing work at brick kilns, stone crushing and the Badarpur power plant. It said the public transport system should be improved as should mechanised cleaning of roads.
Accepting all the recommendations, the court asked the Centre to notify it so that the suggestion could be implemented. The court also asked the Centre to study the adverse impact on environment due to use of poor quality of fuel.
Senior advocate Harish Salve and lawyer Aprajita Singh, who are assisting the court as amicus, told the bench that furnace oil was being used in areas surrounding Delhi and it increased pollution.