By Arushi Sharma
According to a recent report published by Greenpeace India, Airpocalypse-II, 5.5 crore Indians are exposed to air with PM10 levels that are higher than the national standard. PM10 is an inhalable particulate matter with a diameter smaller than 10 microns. The study has used data from Right to Information applications from the pollution control boards of different states along with their annual reports and websites. It highlights the air pollution crisis faced by the Indian cities today and also suggests measures to tackle it.
Findings of the report
The first edition of the Airpocalypse report had studied air pollution levels of 168 Indian cities, while the latest release reveals insights from updated data from 2016. Greenpeace India analysed 280 cities, where data was available, out of which 80 percent fell short of the PM10 standard prescribed by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). The annual permissible limit for PM10 in the air, as given by CPCB’s National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS), is 60 micrograms per cubic metre. Clearly, most of these Indian cities do not come close to the 20 micrograms per cubic metre target of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Moreover, even the levels of PM2.5, another fine and dangerous air pollutant, have steadily increased over the last decade, rising by 13 percent since 2010. When compared to other countries over the same period, the US, the EU, and China experienced a decline between 15 percent and 20 percent.
The prime sufferers
As per the report, Delhi remains the most-polluted city followed by Faridabad, Bhiwadi, and Patna. The entire Indo-Gangetic belt suffers from severe air pollution, even surpassing the Delhi-NCR region. While the situation is relatively better in South India, some cities, like Bangalore and Guntur still exceed the national guidelines.
Additionally, 4.7 crore children under five years of age are exposed to poor air quality. Children are among those worst affected by air pollution especially in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan Bihar, Maharashtra, and Delhi. The study also divulged that air pollution causes 12 lakh deaths in India annually, which is only a fraction less than the annual deaths due to tobacco use. This further costs the country three percent of the Gross Domestic Product. The problem of air pollution in India has, thus, aggravated to a national health and environment emergency today.
The bottlenecks in curbing air pollution
The report makes it clear that there is a stark absence of measurable targets for pollution reduction. Most actions hitherto have been on-paper with no monitoring mechanisms in place. Therefore, the pollution control boards of most Indian states lack the capacity and know-how required to draft and implement meaningful policies. For any efforts to deliver results, there needs to be an equal commitment towards establishing clear targets and deadlines.
The National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) is a welcome step in this direction. The Central government seeks to roll out time-bound solutions across the country under the NCAP. So far as the national capital is concerned, Delhi is among the top 15 most-polluted cities of the world, according to WHO’s 2016 database. To address this issue, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has announced a special plan in his budget speech on 1st February 2018. The scheme is meant to subsidise machinery for in-situ management of crop residue for the governments of Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh to control the stubble burning problem. However, the current national crisis calls for a more extensive mix of solutions to be implemented nation-wide.
Bringing the air quality to WHO standards
The Environmental Performance Index 2018 ranked India at 177th place out of the 180 countries, once again bringing the issue of air pollution to the forefront. According to Greenpeace, there should be a “robust monitoring system” and publically available data, so that the various pollution reduction strategies can be adequately evaluated and fine-tuned.
As we move forward, steps should be taken to tame the multiple causes and sources of air pollution. This would entail controlling the burning of biomass as well as enforcing stricter emission regulations on thermal power plants. The Economic Survey 2018 suggested that heavy penalties be introduced to bring emissions within the permissible limits. Furthermore, Bharat Stage VI emission norms, which are due to be in place from April 2020, should be accelerated. Also, the use of clean and renewable energy and electric vehicles should be incentivised. Measures like “congestion pricing” of vehicles would potentially encourage the use of public transport.
Improving air quality should be a national priority as the severe pollution is beginning to disrupt the daily lives of Indian citizens. The need of the hour is to scale up focused efforts across all critical areas, cities, and regional confines of the country.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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