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Cover Story

India’s Most Polluted Cities HOW CAN WE SAVE THEM?

Today, India is home to 14 out of the 15 most polluted cities in the world says a recent WHO Report on Air Pollution. Most Indians living in cities are reeling from serious respiratory disorders, young children are finding it difficult to breathe thereby resorting to wearing masks every day or campaigning or cleaner air. Similarly, our water bodies and rivers are polluted with industrial and agricultural effluents impacting the water table and the health of the residents impacted by them. We find out more on what is happening and what needs to be done…

WORDS BY: RINKU B

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THE dictionary explains pollution as “the presence in or introduction into the environment of a substance which has harmful or poisonous effects.” Wiki explains pollution as “the introduction of contaminants into the natural environment that cause adverse change.” Simply put, Environmental Pollution is something that brings harm to our environment and in turn to the people who exist based on the environment.

Environmental Pollution occurs when pollutants contaminate the surroundings; which brings about changes that affect our normal lifestyles adversely. Pollutants are the key elements or components of pollution which are generally waste materials of different forms.

Pollution disturbs our ecosystem and the balance in the environment. With modernization and development in our lives pollution has reached its peak; giving rise to global warming and human illness.

POLLUTION STATISTICS:
Half of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in India, according to World Health Organization’s Global Urban Ambient Air Pollution 2016 database. About 62 million tons of municipal solid waste is generated each year in the 468 cities of over 100,000 people; only 70 percent is collected and only 23 percent is processed or treated.

While 94 percent of Indians have access to drinking water, just under 40 percent of the population has access to a sanitary wastewater system, a disparity that reflects the need for wastewater treatment systems. Almost 63 percent of municipal wastewater and 40 percent of industrial wastewater is left untreated and discharged. 30-40 percent of India’s industrial units produce sizeable quantities of pollutants.

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There are about 3 million small-scale enterprises in the country and most of these are using minimal or no pollution control equipment.The Government of India has classified 60 industry categories as highly polluting; these sectors are subject to stringent standards. The Indian Parliament passed the National Green Tribunal Act in 2010, which led to the creation of the National Green Tribunal.

Its purpose is the effective and expeditious processing of cases relating to environmental protection. Orders of the Green Tribunal are driving many of the recent environment management initiatives.

AIR POLLUTION:
Like every year, this time of the year that marks the onset of winter in different parts of India, which brings with it new challenges with regards to deterioration of the air quality index of Indian cities. In a scenario wherein India already holds the record for having 14 out of 15 most polluted cities in the world (as per a May 2018 report published by the World Health Organisation in terms of PM 2.5 concentration), the situation hits even more alarming levels at this period of time due to smog, onset of cracker bursting due to Diwali and most importantly, the burning of crop stubble. Kanpur tops the charts at an annual PM 2.5 level (PM 2.5 is a particle considered so small that it can enter the lungs and cause serious health problems) of 173 micrograms per cubic meter, far higher than the WHO’s recommendation of no more than 10 mcg per cubic meter. The WHO study covered over 4,000 cities in 100 countries.

Air pollution is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (umbrella term for several progressive lung diseases including emphysema) and lung cancer, and increases the risks for acute respiratory infections and exacerbates asthma. Air pollution is known to be one of the aggravating factors for many respiratory ailments and cardiovascular diseases. With the economy booming in many of India’s cities since the turn of this century the number of road vehicles and dusty construction sites have multiplied, and outdoor air pollution has become a major health hazard and a major killer.

This adds to the already large burden of ill-health caused by household air pollution from the use of solid fuels for cooking in the world’s second most populous country of some 1.3 billion people. In India, an estimated 1.5 million people died from the effects of air pollution in 2012, according to WHO data.
Globally, air pollution – both indoor and outdoor – caused nearly 7 million deaths, or 11.6% of deaths in 2012, making it the world’s largest single environmental health risk, according to World health statistics 2016.

The WHO reconfirms that several Indian cities have become death traps because of very high level of PM 2.5. Of the 20 most polluted cities in the world, the top 14 are in India. These include Kanpur, Faridabad, Varanasi, Gaya, Patna, Delhi, Lucknow, Agra, Muzaffarpur, Srinagar, Gurgaon, Jaipur, Patiala, and Jodhpur—in that order. This may be read with the rider that air quality data for 2016 has a smaller sample size of 859 cities compared to previous years. For 2015, air quality has been updated for 2,481 cities; for 2014 about 2,545
cities; and for 2013 about 2,291 cities.

If strict policies to battle smog were successfully implemented, India’s citizens and government would be much richer. By the World Bank’s calculations, health-care fees and productivity losses from pollution cost India as much as 8.5 percent of GDP. At its current size of $2.6 trillion that works out to about $221 billion every year.

REMEDIAL MEASURES:

Under its National Clean Air Programme, the Central government in conjunction with their counterparts in the states have come up with specific targets and timelines to address this public health emergency. Cities under the NCAP include Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Varanasi, and Chandigarh, among others. Each city will have its own action plan, says a report in The Times of India.

The Centre is looking to reduce air pollution by 35% in the next three years, and 50% in the next five years, across the 100 cities identified under the NCAP. While formulating the NCAP, the government identified important sources of pollution across various sectors but singled out transport, industry, residential, agriculture and power sectors as major contributors. The approach to tackling air pollution under the NCAP will require close coordination among multiple institutions across these 100 cities. There is also talk of increasing public participation, establishing more monitoring stations, collect data and send the numbers gathered up for analysis at a potential Air Information Centre.

Comparison of PM10 levels for megacities with a population of over 14 million for the period 2010-2016

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The directives to take remedial measures were initially issued to Delhi NCR, and subsequently to the State Pollution Control Boards for implementation in other ‘non-attainment’ cities. The non-attainment cities are those that have fallen short of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for over five years.

Under the NCAP, the Centre has identified 100 “non-attainment cities,” or those with air quality worse than National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Other cities on this list include Guwahati, Vishakhapatnam, Bhilai, Surat, Bhopal, Indore, Amravati, and Nashik, among others.

To minimize the impact of environmental pollution particularly air pollution, the Government has taken the following actions:
– Formulation of regulations/ statutes;
– Setting up of monitoring network for assessment of ambient air quality;
– Introduction of cleaner/alternate fuel like CNG, LPG etc. and promotion of public transport network including Metro;
– Creation of infrastructure for industrial pollution control incorporating cleaner production processes, setting up of common pollution control facilities;

The Government after realizing the gravity of pollution, have also taken the following measures:

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- Clean India Mission (Swatch Bharat Abhiyan) has been launched;
– Draft Rules for handing and management of municipal waste have been notified for comments of stakeholders.
– Standards for sewage treatment plants have been notified for comments of stakeholders.
– Implementation of Bharat Stage IV norms in the 63 selected cities and Bharat Stage III norms in rest of the country;
– National Air Quality index was launched by the Prime Minister in April, 2015 starting with 10 cities;
– Banning of burning of leaves/ biomass;
– Relevant draft rules, including those pertaining to construction and demolition waste have been notified;
– Regular co-ordination meetings are being held at official and ministerial level with Delhi and other State Governments within the National Capital Region (NCR) on 6th April, 13th April and 24th July, 2015 to control environmental pollution in NCR adopting air-shed approach;
– Short-term plan has been reviewed and long-term plans have been formulated to mitigate pollution in NCR;
– Stringent industrial standards have been formulated and notified for public/stakeholder’s comments;
– Government is giving high priority for public partnership in lane discipline, car-pooling, vehicle maintenance, pollution under control certification etc.
– Out of 2800 major industries, 920 industries have installed on-line continuous (24X7) monitoring devices.

Other steps such as implementing control and mitigation measures related to vehicular emissions, re-suspension of road dust and other fugitive emissions, bio-mass, municipal solid waste burning, industrial pollution, and construction and demolition activities. The National Clean Air Campaign (NCAP) has set up a mandate to implement 42 measures aimed at mitigating air pollution in 102 Indian cities singled out by the Centre for their alarming pollution levels.

The directives to take remedial measures were initially issued to Delhi NCR, and subsequently to the State Pollution Control Boards for implementation in other ‘non-attainment’ cities. The non- attainment cities are those that have fallen short of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for over five years. Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan had said in April that the aim of pollution mitigation measures was to cut overall pollution in these cities by 35% in the next three years.

The NCAP also envisions setting up 1,000 manual air-quality- monitoring stations (a 45% increase from the present number) and 268 automatic stations (from 84 now). “Some cities submitted plans but didn’t fill out particulars, such as timelines, and so they had to be returned,” said Prashant Gargava, Member Secretary, CPCB, adding, “Only 30 of these cities are ready to roll out their plans on the ground.”

The NCAP also envisions setting up 1,000 manual air-quality-monitoring stations (a 45% increase from the present number) and 268 automatic stations (from 84 now). “Some cities submitted plans but didn’t fill out particulars, such as timelines, and so they had to be returned,” said Prashant Gargava, Member Secretary, CPCB, adding, “Only 30 of these cities are ready to roll out their plans on the ground.”

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The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has so far released ₹ 2,066.98 crores for the implementation of various pollution abatement projects and STPs of capacity 2,446.24 million litres per day (MLD) under NRCP. Till March 2017, around ₹ 7,000 crores was spent only for cleaning the Ganga, as noted in an order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT). 

WATER POLLUTION:

A Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) report of 2015 brought out the fact that 61,948 million litres of urban sewage is generated on a daily basis in India. But the cities have an installed sewage treatment capacity of only 38 per cent of this. In reality more than this amount goes untreated into the rivers or water bodies as the treatment capacity of major sewage treatment plants (STPs) in the country is around 66 per cent of the installed capacity as per CPCB findings of 2013. As a result, more than 38,000 million litres of waste water goes into the major rivers, water bodies and even percolates into the ground every day. Over and above this there is industrial effluent. The data on the raw sewage from rural areas is not available.
In April 2015, CPCB issued directions to all the state pollution control boards/pollution control committees in the country for setting up of STPs in their respective states so that untreated sewage does not enter the rivers. The same directions were also issued by CPCB to all 69 municipal authorities of metropolitan towns and capital cities in October 2015.
Pollution level in rivers of India has not shown any sign of improvement. Around 302 polluted stretches on 275 rivers have been reported recently. The top five states showing maximum number of polluted stretches are Maharashtra, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and West Bengal. Estimated polluted riverine length is 12,363 km, which is almost five times the length of Ganga main stem.
An analysis of 71 cities by Centre for Science and Environment (seventh State of India’s Environment report – Excreta Matters) has shown that sewerage systems are not seen as connected to rivers. The analysis says that a piece of “hardware” is installed and if the water utility does not have money, the hardware does not run.

REMEDIAL:
Crores of rupees have been invested by the Union Government for cleaning rivers under the Centre’s National River Conservation Plan (NRCP), Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), Smart Cities Mission programmes of the Ministry of Urban Development and the “Namami Gange,” under the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation (MOWR). Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS) is taking care of the sanitation projects for villages near Ganga along with MOWR.

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has so far released ₹ 2,066.98 crores for the implementation of various pollution abatement projects and STPs of capacity 2,446.24 million litres per day (MLD) under NRCP. Till March 2017, around ₹ 7,000 crores was spent only for cleaning the Ganga, as noted in an order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT). The states are also getting financial assistance in the form of loans and grants that are sanctioned by foreign agencies. The concerned citizens and civil societies have moved the courts time and again to save rivers from pollution.

In March 2017, Uttarakhand declared Ganga and Yamuna as living entities thinking that this will conserve and rejuvenate the rivers faster.
So inconclusion, while there might be several remedial actions been planned, the bigger challenge will always be its implementation. Mindsets in India need to change. We are in the midst of a catastrophe and only a movement steered by the people can show us all a way out of our air pollution problem.

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