Air Pollution in North India

This is a guest blog by Manish.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released an updated list of the most polluted cities globally. It turns out that if we rank cities on the basis of average annual PM2.5 concentration, 14 of the 20 most polluted cities are in India. It is worth noting that all these cities, including Kanpur, Faridabad, Varanasi, Gaya, Patna, Delhi, Lucknow, Agra, Muzaffarpur, Srinagar, Gurgaon, Jaipur, Patiala and Jodhpur are situated in North India. The air pollution is affecting our health seriously. In this blog the problem has been analysed and remedies suggested.

Causes of Air Pollution

Relief

Geographical location of North India is such that regular flow of land breeze and sea breeze does not take the air pollution to deep sea and save the cities and towns. The Indus-Ganga belt is the world’s largest stretch of uninterrupted alluvium deposits. As fertile as alluvium is, it is composed of loose unconsolidated particles. Thus, dry alluvial soil significantly contributes to wind-blown dust.

Anthropological Causes

Stubble burning is a major concern as most of the rice farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh burn the matter. This is done, to avoid new cost for transportation. Diwali fireworks also cause air pollution. In addition, burning of waste, lighting fires at night for warmth, smoke causing cooking methods, including tandoors and an in general indifferent attitude towards environment is a major problem.

Environmental Causes

In the post rainy season North India experiences cool dense air with very little breeze. These conditions aggravate the smog conditions.

Policy Issues

There is indifference to the problem by the centre as well as state governments. Policy steps to curb pollution are mostly confined to short-term measures rather than good and effective long-term solutions such as evolving public transport and making stable transport a cost-effective affair. Besides, there is inter-state rivalry between Punjab, Haryana and Delhi leading to the state governments blaming each other for the problem rather than acting in coordination.

Measures to Curb Pollution

After around 150 hours of severe air pollution crisis in Delhi and other parts of North India, the Supreme Court on November 4 conducted an emergency hearing on bringing an ‘immediate solution’ to the crisis.

Directions issued by the Supreme Court:

  • Chief secretaries, along with collectors, tehsildar and the entire police machinery of the states, are responsible to ensure no stubble burning.
  • Gram pradhans, local administrations and the police to be personally responsible for any violations of the above. 
  • The Delhi government to take suggestions from experts and work with other bodies to tackle garbage-burning.
  • Environment Pollution and Control Authority (EPCA) to assist with prevention on entry of vehicles.
  • Ban on construction and demolition activities in Delhi and NCR. Penalty of Rs 1 lakh on local administration in case of violations.
  • A stop put on coal-based industries. Bench ordered violations will be penalised.
  • National Capital Territory Delhi to furnish report by Friday, on the rationale behind exemption of two- and three-wheelers in the odd-even scheme and what difference does it make.
  • State governments should form high-level committees.
  • Diesel generators banned in Delhi NCR until further orders. 
  • Delhi Police to sprinkle water on roads and plan traffic to reduce congestion to prevent road dust.
  • Municipal bodies to prevent open dumping of garbage.

Other Points

  • As Shekhar Gupta has rightly suggested in his report (link given below), so much of rice should not be grown. Even if rice is grown then it need not be harvested simultaneously.
  • Indian society has to end the importance of stupid cultural beliefs and their promotion by stupid politicians.

Conclusion

There are only four cities in India with ‘good’ air quality, of which two are in Kerala. Eloor, a suburb of Kochi in Kerala, recorded the best air quality with an AQI of 25. Eloor is followed by Thane near Mumbai (AQI 45), Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala (AQI 49) and Kota in Rajasthan (AQI 50). Burning mixed municipal waste in New Delhi and other places in North India is highly polluting. We need to shift within the next few years to an effective system of separating municipal waste into biodegradable waste which can be converted into compost and energy, recyclable waste including plastic which can be recycled, inert waste which can be converted into refuse-derived fuel for power generation, and residual non-combustible waste which has to go to scientific landfills. Lack of focus on the grave problem and political will to tackle the issue in a coordinated manner has been the major reason for the problem. We can take lessons from China to see as to how it has improved the situation with focused effort. If we do not do so, we will most probably witness the same thing next year & probably I would be rewriting a blog on the subject.

References:


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