In Karnataka, Bengaluru, Tumakuru and Davangere standout as polluted cities. Their statistics are better than those of Delhi, which is the worst, but they are heading towards the leader board. Is anybody doing anything about it? Karnataka Today’s Sandhya Harsha finds out….
“I wouldn’t dare to hang out my laundry in Delhi, especially whites,” murmurs Swati Verma gazing at fluttering clothes hung on clotheslines on the innumerous rooftops in a South Bengaluru residential area on a breezy January evening.
Unperturbed by the quizzing look of her Bengalurean friend, Swati breaks into laughter as she tries to explain that it would be pointless in Delhi to expect air-dried laundry as dirt and dust will catch them in no time. “Thanks to Delhi’s infamous air pollution,” she says. Taking a deep breath, Bengaluru still feels fresh, but I won’t be surprised if it joins Delhi soon, she claims.
Yes, while Delhi would definitely steal the limelight when it comes to being the ‘air-pollution’ capital of the country, words of the Delhiite that the South-Indian states may soon join the suite of the national capital when it comes to the pollution index comes with little surprise.
According to agencies affiliated to the World Health Organisation (WHO) none of the Indian cities meet the ‘air-quality’ standards set by the global organisation.
In a matter of fact, a report suggests that air-consumption in India has become as deadly as taking-in tobacco. A study titled ‘Airpocalypse: Assessment of Air Pollution in Indian Cities’ done by Greenpeace India reveals that air pollution has already claimed the lives of around 1.2 million people annually, just a “fraction less” than the number of deaths caused by tobacco usage.
Another research study by the Global Burden of Disease (GBD), confirms that in 2015, an estimated 3283 people have died each day due to air pollution (outdoor), taking the potential number of deaths to 11.98 lakh.
It’s not just public health that is threatened by air-pollution, but the economy and social life as well. Incidents such as the recent closure of schools in Delhi due to the smog, shutting of industries and workplaces impacts productivity and affects GDP. The World Bank estimates that India loses around 3 per cent of its GDP due to air pollution.
Air quality assessed in 168 cities
The Greenpeace India study has assessed air quality in 168 cities across 24 states and union territories and pinpoints fossil fuels as one of the main culprits for the deteriorating air quality across the country.
Based on the data obtained thorough Right to Information applied across various State Pollution Control Boards in the country, Delhi tops the list of 168 cities with PM10 (particles with a diameter of 10 micrometres or less) concentrations of 268 µg/m3 which is 4 times more than the annual average of 60 µg/m3 as prescribed under National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).
The list of cities is closely followed by Ghaziabad, Allahabad, and Bareli in Uttar Pradesh; Faridabad in Haryana; Jharia in Jharkhand, Alwar in Rajasthan; Ranchi, Kusunda and Bastacola in Jharkhand; Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, and Patna In Bihar; with PM10 levels ranging from 258 µg/m3to 200 µg/m3.
Though Southern-Indian states perform fairly better when compared to Northern states, the report indicates that the air quality is deteriorating at alarming levels.
Blurb - In 2010, The Energy Resources Institute (TERI) attributed the key source of PM10 in Bengaluru to transport (42%), road dust (20%), construction (14%), industry (14%), Diesel Generator (7%) and Domestic Households (3%).
Air in Karnataka getting toxic
In Karnataka, Bengaluru, Tumkuru and Davangere standout as the worst affected with PM10 concentrations almost double when compared to NAAQS prescribed annual average of 60 µg/m3.
PM10 concentrations in Bengaluru, Tumkur, Davanagere, Raichur and Hubli were respectively 119, 118, 109, 87 and 80 µg/m3 for year 2015-2016.
In 2010, The Energy Resources Institute (TERI) attributed the key source of PM10 in Bengaluru to transport (42%), road dust (20%), construction (14%), industry (14%), Diesel Generator (7%) and Domestic Households (3%).
What is the Karnataka government doing about it?
Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) has flagged off 12 vehicles fitted with emission monitoring equipment in November 2016. Speaking to Karnataka Today, KSPCB Chairman Lakshman says that emission levels of 7,000 vehicles have been checked in Bengaluru and around 13.5 per cent of petrol and 28 per cent of diesel vehicles have failed the test. Penalty has been imposed on owners of these vehicles.
KSPCB has also suggested to the government to ban vehicles that are 15 years old.
“Awareness and strict enforcement of guidelines is the only way to keep pollution under control. KSPCB holds regular meetings with its other stakeholders such as BTP, RTO, BBMP to come up with measures to reduce pollution. Around 40 per cent of pollution is because of vehicular emissions and 20 per cent is due to construction activities. Burning of garbage is also another factor that contributes to pollution. Guidelines have been issued to the BBMP to keep the roads clean to reduce dust as well as take steps to curb burning of garbage,” he says.
On a daily basis around 65 lakh vehicles ply on Bengaluru roads. Civic infrastructure needs to be improved such as asphalting of roads and widening bottle necks that cause traffic jams. Encouraging the use of public transport as well as the upcoming phase 2 of metro could bring some respite, says Lakshman.
To monitor air quality, Bengaluru will have additional five automated ambient air quality monitoring stations. Three more stations will come up in Gulburga, Hubli-Dharwad and Mangaluru in the first phase. In the second phase, all district headquarters will each have a Continuous Ambient Air Quality Monitoring station. The data collected from the stations and Mobile vans will be handed over to the government, to discuss strategies to curb pollution.
It would be a relief to know that in the polluted city rankings according to the Airpocalypse report, 8 of the lowest polluted cities are in Karnataka. Hassan has the lowest PM10 concentration with an annual average of 25 µg/m3 followed by Mangaluru with 35 µg/m3. Though it meets NAAQ standards, it is still above WHO standards which expect the annual average to be within 20 µg/m3.
What Mangaluru can learn from the flaws of other cities?
'Shudda Gaali' a study initiated and co-ordinated by Anti-Pollution Drive (APD) Foundation in association with St George's Homeopathy, Padil analysed air quality in Mangaluru with an aim to mitigate air pollution from its sources.
Air quality in 12 different locations in Mangaluru City were tested using pollution monitoring devices placed strategically across various parts of the cities for a span of eight hours.
Of the 6 parameters measured, PM10 were found to be high in Bunts hostel, Pumpwell and Baikampady and PM2.5 (particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less) alone in 6 junctions such as PVS, Bunts Hostel, Bunder, MCC, Pump Well and Baikampady.
Lead levels measured in seven out of nine locations showed that the pollutant exceeded the permissible standards. “The reason could be the predominant use of fuel with lead in the vehicles; and in Baikampady it is possibly the presence of petrochemical industries,” says Abdullah A Rehman from the Anti Pollution Drive.
Rehman reveals that overall air quality was good in most locations in the city, especially with respect to Sulphur Oxides (SOx) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), which were well within the permissible limits. However, with regard to Particulate Matter further damage can be avoided if Dakshina Kannada District administration increases CNG supplies and shifts the Public Transport to CNG.
The APD study group also recommends mandating BS-IV vehicles, where BS stands for Bharat stage emission standards. These emission standards were instituted by the Government of India to regulate the output of air pollutants from internal combustion engine equipment, including motor vehicles.
“We have several cities to learn from, where the situation has become irreversible, and not commit the same mistakes,” says Rehman.
KSPCB DK District Environment Officer Rajshekhar Puranik has confirmed with Karnataka Today that Mangaluru city will have its first Continuous Ambient Air Quality Monitoring station in the next 3 to 4 months. “The tender to set up the station has been completed recently, which may come up near Circuit house in Kadri,” he adds.
Tackling Air Pollution
As a way ahead for the country, the Airpocalypse study suggests the government to take up a systematic approach to understand pollution levels regularly and take action. The first step in the direction is having a robust monitoring of air quality across the country to know information in real time and using the data to arrive at strategies that would protect public health and reduce pollution levels.
The country’s citizens play a key role in reducing air pollution. Opting for public transport, cycling or walking to work, using energy efficient appliances and using solar energy, recycling waste and minimizing burning of garbage in landfills will help tackle pollution on a massive scale.
(This article was published in the recent issue of Karnataka Today Magazine)