Delhi along with large parts of Northern India has been choking under severe pollution since 2010. Every year the politician, who ever is in power, pledges to reduce pollution levels. Every year the tax payer invests thousands of crores in the name of pollution control. Nothing happens. In 2018 I happened to investigate the causes of air pollution in detail and wrote a piece for the think tank ORF about the directionless effort that placed responsibility on too many and actually led to accountability for none. Delhi’s Toxic Air : Anyone Responsible ?
The Government had then made yet another high powered committee where scientists and bureaucrats started passing the buck without any actionable output. Two more years passed since and the air quality has worsened.
On Monday the 11th of November 2020, a decade after the acute air pollution problem surfaced in Delhi, the Air quality dipped to show that PM2.5 particles ( 100 times thinner than human hair ) exceeded 1000 ug/cubic metre. These particles consist of dirt, smoke, dust from factories, farms, construction sites and severely affect the upper respiratory tract causing, asthma, breathlessness and even lung cancer.
In 2019 Bloomsbury published my book India Emerging : From Policy Paralysis to Hyper Economics where some of the key reasons for Delhi’s pollution was discussed. Here is one of them
Extract - Chapter 6 Opportunity to Build Oil Infrastructure Lost: High Taxes Hurt the Consumer Pg 74
While Delhi chokes under smog each winter, Delhi’s gas power plants—270 MW Indraprastha Power Generation Co Ltd (IPGCL) unit at Pragati Maidan and 1500 MW gas station at Bawana— lie underutilised due to lack of natural gas. As a matter of fact, the generation of these stations, set up at a cost of over ₹5,000 crore, never even exceeded 50% because agreements for buying of gas were not completed. The Bawana gas project was set up with a lot of fanfare by the Sheila Dixit government around a decade ago. Politicians then promised to the people that with this massive investment Delhi will have clean air and will be self-sufficient. It will not have to depend on dirty coal power from NTPC in Badarpur in the heart of South Delhi to meet the power needs of the city.
But, those politicians have gone and the new Aam Aadmi Party ( AAP) ministry at Delhi and the Modi government at the centre have not taken an initiative to augment gas supplies to run the Bawana utility at its full capacity.
When I talked to V. Kumar, additional general manager, Solar & Gas of the IPGCL Bawana project, he told me that domestic gas supply is insufficient and imported gas is unaffordable. Production of natural gas has fallen by nearly 40% from 52,219 Million Metric Standard Cubic Metres (MMSCM) in 2010–2011 to 31,897 MMSCM in 2016–2017. Figure 6.3 gives the details of the steady fall in production of natural gas since 2011. So, the IPGCL plants have worked far below capacity. The unavailability of local gas and the high cost of imported gas is to blame for the underutilisation of plants. The distribution companies (discoms) will not buy expensive power from imported gas. So, IPGCL has not entered into a contract to buy expensive gas, immaterial of the fact that the capital is high on health hazard.