About the project
This project is a first step towards building a regulatory performance index, which will allow citizens, advocacy groups and other researchers to evaluate the action taken by our public authorities to tackle air pollution. It uses construction activities in the Delhi NCR as a case study.
What is a regulatory performance evaluation?
A regulatory performance evaluation aims to generate accurate and comprehensive information about monitoring and enforcement activities taken by authorities. Authorities can also be evaluated for the transparency, clarity and consistency of their regulatory actions. We see this exercise as the regulatory equivalent of air quality monitoring stations. Just as such stations measure the nature and quantity of pollutants in the air, we aim to measure the nature and level of regulatory activity around air pollution.
What questions does a regulatory performance evaluation aim to answer?
What is the capacity of pollution control and municipal authorities to inspect construction sites?
How frequently is this inspection carried out?
How many warnings are issued to construction sites?
How many construction activities are suspended because of violating dust control measures?
What is the quantum of fines imposed on construction sites for violating the Graded Response Action Plan?
The conversation around air pollution has rightly focused on the lack of real-time information about air quality. If we don’t know how bad the problem is, we won’t know what steps to take to fix it. This is much the same idea behind a regulatory performance evaluation. If we don’t know what steps our public authorities and agencies are taking to tackle air pollution or whether they’re taking the steps they promised to, we won’t know whether these steps are working or not.
Ideally, we would like to measure how effective regulatory action is — did registering police complaints for violating the firecracker ban have a negative effect on their sale the next year? did fining resident welfare associations for unsegregated waste reduce the amount going to landfill? did the suspension of building permits for violating dust control measures ultimately improve the air quality index in and around construction sites?
We are some way from being able to draw these connections. We are just about making accurate air quality data available in the public domain. Information about regulatory action is patchier and far less transparent. Correlations between such action and the air quality index are a far cry.
There are some steps that are being taken by public authorities themselves to release information about regulatory action. The Central Pollution Control Board lists the directions issued by it on its website. The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority has a report card on action taken on air pollution. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests also has a report on air pollution in the Delhi NCR, which contains some data on challans issued, fines collected and activities halted. At the peak of the crisis (November-December), the Central Pollution Control Board released some information on the number of teams, number of complaints and fines imposed over a concentrated period.
These are encouraging steps, but they are not enough to be able to draw an accurate picture of the state of regulatory activity. For one, the information is scattered across several sources. Second, there is no distinct period of reporting activity, so information is dependent on one-off reviews carried out by other bodies (like the Parliamentary Standing Committee) and does not provide a year-round picture. While it is important to know about action taken during periods of crisis, the mark of a healthy regulatory system is how it functions even when it is not under intense scrutiny. Third, the information released by authorities is not always broken down into enough detail.
For example, what percentage of prosecutions under the Environment (Protection) Act are converted into convictions? Does the strength of inspection teams match up to the number of construction sites across the Delhi NCR? How many violations are recorded at public and private construction sites? Are there any repeat violators?
The greater the level of detail, the more useful it is to draw conclusions about what action is working or where stronger measures are called for.
Within a couple of days of each other, the headlines in India were dominated by the country’s performance on two very different kinds of parameters. The World Health Organisation, in its report, Air Pollution and Child Health, documented that India had the highest number of deaths in the world, of children under 5, due to PM 2.5 exposure. The World Bank, in its Ease of Doing Business Rankings, moved India up 23 places to 77, praising it for streamlining construction permits in particular. The two are not unrelated. The unquestioning pursuit of a leap in the Ease of Doing Business Rankings has health and environmental costs.
But is the construction industry really the culprit? Of the different sources of air pollution that have been plaguing the country and the Delhi NCR in particular, construction dust isn’t very high on the list. According to a source apportionment study of PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations in the Delhi NCR, carried out in August 2018 by the Automotive Research Association of India and The Energy and Resources Institute, for the Department of Heavy Industry, construction dust contributes 1% and 7% to PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations respectively.
However, a critical review of receptor modelling for particulate matter in India shows that although construction dust is a major source of particulate matter emission at several locations, it has been often combined with sources such as road dust. The 2016 IIT Kanpur Study on Air Pollution also listed construction and demolition activities as the third highest contributor to area source emissions as regards PM10, and as a consistent year-round source.
Irrespective of its total contribution to air pollution, there are several reasons that make it relevant to single out the construction industry to evaluate the enforcement of air pollution regulation in the Delhi NCR.
There are obvious technological solutions to air pollution from thermal power plants, vehicles and stubble burning. There does not appear to be a similar silver bullet solution to tackle dust from construction sites. The Niti Aayog’s Breathe India Action Plan to combat air pollution suggests setting up smog-free towers at major construction sites. These 23-foot tall air purification systems are expected to clean 30,000 cubic metres of air per hour at a cost of $54,000 per hour. The technological and economic feasibility of such a solution, or indeed, its efficacy, do not seem to have been assessed rigorously.
The draft National Clean Air Programme, on the other hand, proposes more modest measures, such as erecting screens, sprinkling water and transporting construction material in closed vehicles. The success of such measures depends upon their enforcement. The Central Pollution Control Board, in directions issued to implement the Comprehensive Action Plan for Air Pollution Control in Delhi and the NCR, also recognises that the mitigation of dust pollution from construction activities essentially requires enforcement.
No metrics have been developed to evaluate the success or failure of such enforcement. The Central Pollution Control Board might put out a statement that it imposed nearly 80 lakh rupees worth pollution fines, primarily on construction activities, but this provides no indication of the action being adequate or not.
This project takes a first step towards framing the questions that must be asked to determine whether or not air pollution regulation is working, by examining whether dust control measures from construction activities are being implemented effectively. This will set the foundation for more sophisticated forms of regulatory performance evaluation in the context of other sources of air pollution and even for other environmental problems.
In 2011, the National Human Rights Commission tabled a Special Report before Parliament on silicosis, identifying construction as one of the silicosis-prone industries. The report contained preventive, remedial and compensatory measures for workers in such industries, including carrying out half-yearly occupational health and dust surveys in suspected hazardous industries. Despite this, there remains little information in the public domain identifying the health impacts of dust on workers at construction sites, especially in the Delhi NCR.
A 2014 study by researchers at Jamia Milia Islamia University studied the air pollution index and dust control measures at 19 construction sites in Delhi and compared this with the proportion of workers suffering from respiratory diseases. Where measures like air-filter masks and water sprinkling had been adopted, there was a lower percentage of workers suffering from respiratory diseases. Where such measures were not in place, a higher percentage of workers suffered from respiratory disorders.
The health effects of construction dust on residents around construction sites has not been documented, but there is no doubt about the harmful effect on construction workers, who are in any case, a vulnerable group. A large proportion of such workers tend to be migrants, with no stable access to healthcare or indeed, any form of social security. The children of workers at such sites are likely to be even more vulnerable, especially since studiesindicate that they are likely to be malnourished.
The construction industry is India’s second largest employer, expected to employ 67 million people by 2022, but potentially also placing them at risk. When action on air pollution is resisted because it is seen as an upper middle-class preoccupation, it is more important than ever to shine the spotlight on its effects on a socio-economically disadvantaged group.
Some of the problems that contribute to Delhi’s air pollution are peculiar to Delhi — its geographical location, the crop burning in neighbouring states, and its population, which exacerbates problems like the number of vehicles on the roads and waste segregation. However, construction is an activity that only promises (or threatens!) to grow over the next decade or so, with India predicted to have the world’s third largest construction industry by 2030. It is already India’s second largest employer, expected to employ 67 million people by 2022
An analysis of the problems with regulating construction dust in the Delhi NCR is likely to have implications for other parts of the country as well and bring attention to bear on an activity that is otherwise unhesitatingly touted as a good.