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Is India really serious about its environment?

Posted in Featured, View Point

Published on January 20, 2019 with No Comments

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) latest study on the most polluted places on the planet is out. Along with the report has come out certain facts that some countries wanted that they remained covered up forever. Whereas certain countries having released that pollution indeed is taking a toll on people’s health and pollution could cause heart diseases, lung diseases, cancer, pneumonia, insomnia, and respiratory infections have worked to reduce the pollutants; on the other hand the report is damning for one country in particular-India, perhaps for the reason that it had done little over the years. The report highlights that of the 10 most polluted cities in the world, nine are in India. The data should have sent alarm bells ringing specially when WHO’s study covered over 4,000 cities in 100 countries.  The institution defines air quality based on two measures: PM10 and PM2.5. PM10 is the particulate matter that is 10 micrometers or less in diameter in the air. The PM10 level of 20 ug/m3 is considered safe. The cities of India that have been cited by WHO have had their special place, e.g. Muzaffarpur-Located in Bihar, one of the poorest states in India,  lies in the Indo-Gangetic plains; Agra-The city of Taj Mahal. The average PM2.5 level in Agra is 131 due to pollution from cooking fuels, factories, and cars. The air in Agra is so polluted that the white marbles of the Taj Mahal have started turning yellow and green. Lucknow-  the capital of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India. Lucknow has an average PM2.5 of 138 due to burning garbage and fossil fuels. Delhi-was the world’s most polluted city for years before the city and central governments launched a series of initiatives to reduce air pollution. Its ranking has since declined from 1st to 6th place. Its average PM2.5 level is still 143. Last year, the government had declared a public health emergency in Delhi after particulate matter levels crossed 70 times the safe limit temporarily. The air quality in Delhi worsens every year during winter. Patna- another city in Bihar suffers from excessive population, vehicular emissions, power plants and again is on the banks of river Ganges.  Just a few hundred kilometers away from Patna is Varanasi, one of the oldest cities in the world. It is the spiritual capital of Hindus. But Varanasi has witnessed worsening air quality over the years. The average PM2.5 is 151, according to the WHO. Other cities that find mention are the industrial towns of Faridabad just next to the national capital, Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh; and Gaya in Bihar. These cities are covering a major part of India, and its population spread from east to west and the levels are potentially dangerous. For years there has been public outcry and continuous intense pressure from judiciary, media and experts on the various Indians governments to take action on toxic air pollution. Now, when the situation has hit an alarming proposition that the Indian government has unveiled a much awaited  National Clean Air Programme (NACP) that aims at 20-30 percent reduction of particulate matter (PM) concentration over the next five years, with an overall goal of mitigating air pollution and improving air quality in the country. The time-bound plan, targeting a specific PM level reduction by 2024 has been put in place.

However, the key challenge lies in the implementation of the NCAP, particularly when adequate equipments are not available to monitor the air quality. There have been incidence when the electronic display boards put up in various cities kept on showing the old readings for days. Also, there is a little effort to control the pollution at the source. For over 25 years, various governments have been talking about the clean Ganga, with no results whatsoever. Earlier, there was concern about the pollution in Ganga limited to the water, now a serious threat is being poised by the air quality of cities around Ganga. With no mechanism to legally enforce the targets, there is concern that the plan, while good in intention, might not be effective. And  it seems it could be difficult for India to throw away the tag of having 9/10 top polluted cities.

 

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