Accept address alleviate

first_imgA number of Indian cities find their coveted place in the list of ‘most polluted cities in the world’. As per WHO’s 2019 report, 15 out of the 20 most polluted cities belong to India – Gurugram topping charts with average annual PM 2.5 at 135 g/m3, while Delhi sits at the 11th position, down from the last time. WHO advisory will tell you that fine particles, less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter, should not be exceeding 10 micrograms/m3. Such fine particles called particulate matter (PM) – microscopic solid or liquid matter suspended in the atmosphere – cause a wide array of health issues such as respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, pregnancy complications and can even be fatal. Numerous reports cite that 12 lakh Indians died in 2017 due to air pollution. Now, either that is a coincidence or the air we breathe is actually bad – with us just testing our bodies, and luck, to measure the extent of impact. Rapid industrialisation and expedited urbanisation have taken a toll on the air we breathe while counteractions have hardly matched the damage inflicted. Discounting the local issues of cities, vehicular and industrial emissions make up a big chunk of air pollution. Persistent air pollution has degraded the air quality of cities and the National Capital Territory of Delhi accounts as a prime example. NCT suffers from bad air syndrome. The soaring concentration of PM is the prime cause of this syndrome which has engulfed NCT like an invisible blanket. Earlier, the grievous impact of the soaring PM 2.5 was witnessed only in winters – especially the Great Smog of Delhi – where the ensuing smog trapped pollutants produced by vehicles, fires and industrial activities due to surface inversion. However, a spike in AQI, that too in summers, is not just a coincidence but the inference of a perennial ailment – poor air quality. While summers have not experienced anything even close to the great smog of Delhi, dust or smoke caused by stubble burning in neighbouring states can greatly impact Delhi’s air quality. Also Read – Drivers of the economySo, when we have credible organisations furnishing staggering reports which are enough to consider air pollution, especially in the most polluted cities, as a public health emergency, why hasn’t it been declared so? After being caught off-guard with degenerating air quality, authorities across various departments collaborated in 2017 to carry out an exigency plan – Graded Response Action Plan – to combat the hazardous AQI. Pioneered by CPCB and implemented by EPCA, GRAP is a set of immediate directives to curb the alarming levels of air pollution. However, GRAP remained an emergency plan, not a long-term solution. After another spell of GRAP in 2018, India realised the need for a long-term action plan and on January 10, 2019, the first ever national programme to address air pollution was released by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC). The goal of National Comprehensive Action Plan (NCAP) is “to meet the prescribed annual average ambient air quality standards at all locations in the country in a stipulated time frame”. NCAP envisions collaborative, cross-sectoral, multi-scale and multilayered coordination between relevant central ministries, state governments, and local bodies but unfortunately, remains in need of stringent provisions that are legally binding on both the authorities and the polluters to actually reduce pollution. Ambitious targets are relevant only when adequate timeline and implementation are in order. Otherwise, those targets are similar to poll sops – only that we can afford poll sops for as long but not failed targets vis-à-vis air pollution. Also Read – The water pictureAwareness is the first step to remedy. While air pollution has been widely witnessed, the severity of the same has not yet been appropriately understood by masses. Given the mandate that Prime Minister Modi received in the general election, him declaring air pollution as a public health emergency will at least help to acknowledge the adversity. Remedial actions will kickstart, thereby, projecting financial as well as logistical requirements to bring down PM level as envisaged in NCAP and ensure ambient air quality by an estimated deadline, say 2030. Delhi government has taken novel steps to cater to the dismal air quality in the national capital which needs to be backed by the central government and replicated in other cities. The odd-even scheme had successful runs and needs to be brought back while the target to plant 23 lakh trees and shrubs in the current fiscal year looks promising, yet minimalistic in approach when one looks at the rising number of vehicles spewing large amounts of pollutants in the air. Both, the introduction of 1,000 electric buses in Delhi and a comprehensive electric vehicle policy – part of Delhi government’s comprehensive green budget – are lively initiatives to tackle particulate emissions. These realise the need to shift to low and zero emission solutions because even the current rate of emissions will not be curtailed by remedial actions, given how damage control mechanisms are delayed, in the first place, and restricting damage not cleaning the air. Closing down the Badarpur Thermal Plant has been a remarkable decision especially since past efforts to clean up the environment have only struggled to clear the test of affordability. Being the dominant provider of cheap energy and the biggest source of air pollution, India’s fleet of thermal plants has resisted the implementation of emission standards due to cost factor. Hence, a gradual shift to clean and renewable energy sources will ensure low thermal plant activity and cement India’s position as a sustainable developing country – one of its kind. Policy changes are a must for effective urban-planning, green and affordable public transport system, energy-efficient power generation, better management of municipal and industrial waste, etc. PM Ujjwala Yojana has been a remarkable move to provide LPG connections to BPL households in a bid to eradicate bio-mass and firewood burning but they need to be affordable to promote greater adoption. Amid the existing corrective measures, new ideas through public competitions and technological research institutes can be invited in the fray to widen NCAP’s scope. Tackling air pollution involves six SDGs viz., Good Health and Well-being, Affordable and Clean energy, Sustainable cities and Communities, Sustainable Consumption and Production, Climate Action and Partnerships for Goals. It signifies how our efforts to control pollution catapult us towards other sustainable ambitions which will contribute immensely to the sustainable bedrock we want to lay for our future generations. It is important to understand that a multi-pronged outlook, constituting energy and transport alternatives, is headway for the National Capital Territory of Delhi and other urban centres choking with poor air quality. Unless we outline a comprehensive trajectory to alleviate the persistent adversity, sporadic efforts to clean air will be mere voices in widespread pandemonium! (The author is Sub-Editor, Millennium Post)last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *