Pollution indices of 46 cities completely deteriorate; Industrial pollution, vehicular emission prominent
People’s Daily correspondent in India: Yuan Jirong
In early February, India’s New Delhi registered the lowest temperature in winter, with the whole city covered in thick fog. The picture shows students rushing to school on rickshaws early in the morning.
According to Indian media reports, India’s air pollution status continued to cross all limits in 2016, reaching unprecedented levels and bringing great challenges to India. In view of the trend of increasing pollution, the Indian government has recently introduced the most stringent air pollution control measures along with the budget bill of 2017, trying to alleviate air pollution. The effect of these measures remains to be seen.
On hazy days, air purifiers and masks are sold out
The latest data published by India’s Central Pollution Control Board show that air pollution indices of all the 46 cities tested by the Board have deteriorated in 2016, not a single city has reached within safe limits. Compared to the previous two years, India’s air pollution has reached the worst level, and half of the most polluted cities are in Uttar Pradesh, with the state capital Allahabad ranking first among India’s most polluted cities. Indian capital New Delhi ranked fourth. The annual average pollution was more than four times the permissible limit in 10 most polluted cities. On the worst days, it was up to 20 times the national safety parameter and 60 times of the World Health Organisation (WHO) norm.
The period of severe air pollution in India generally occurs from December each year to January next year. However, haze in November last year has crossed all limits. I still remember, on the 7th of November when I returned from Sri Lanka to Delhi after a business trip, the aircraft was surrounded by haze as it just approached the Delhi area. After coming out of the airport, visibility was only about 100 meters. Mr. Kumar, the driver of my pre-booked taxi told that he wouldn’t have come out in this kind of a weather, if it was not booked one week in advance. At that time the PM2.5 levels of the haze had crossed the value of 900.
After returning to the residence, I immediately went out to a large shopping mall to purchase air purifier and masks and found that they were already sold out. Until a few days later when I could buy a mask, the price had shot up to Rs.2000 (about 200 RMB). Hindustan Times reported that at that time that mask prices have gone up from Rs 90 to Rs 2000, and could only be used once. Air purifier prices had risen by 50%, and had been out of stock in many shopping malls.
Imperfections in public transport system are also contributing to increase in pollution
Times of India reported that Modi advocates “Make in India” so that India’s industrial output accounts for about 25% of GDP by 2020. A side-effect of industrial development is pollution. Sulphur dioxide and soot produced by oil refineries, cement plants, stone-crushers and hot mix plants are more than five times the safe limits for industrial production. Food processing and fertilizer plants emit acid vapours into the air. India currently relies heavily on thermal power, with a huge number of large-scale coal-fired power stations spread throughout the country. India’s National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) is currently building four giant coal-fired power stations, each station consuming millions of tons of coal every year, producing various pollutants like fly ash, sulphur dioxide and hydrocarbons.
According to a recent report in The Hindustan Times, the number of cars and auto rickshaws in the Indian capital New Delhi has reached more than 800 million, and is nearing 900 million.
In addition, farmers in the nearby Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar, prefer to burn stalks of crops every winter to increase the fertility of soil, which worsens the air pollution.
A researcher in India’s Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) told this reporter that the bursting of fireworks during Diwali in early November also is a factor. India does not yet have a perfect public transport system; construction activities, emissions from burning of coal and thermal power plants are also not well controlled. These are also major contributing factors.
Government launches air pollution graded response action plan
In order to control air quality, India’s central government has introduced a graded response action plan for prevention and control of air pollution, which divides air pollution into four categories: “severe plus or emergency”, “severe”, “very poor” and “moderate to poor”, and according to different grades, implement appropriate measures for prevention and control. As part of the central government’s air pollution control program, 20 additional monitoring stations will be added to the capital New Delhi before next winter to increase monitoring of air pollution in the capital. Hindustan Times recently reported that in the future each district in New Delhi will add at least three monitoring stations.
Officials from the Delhi government say the process of setting up 20 stations has already started and the bidding process will start in February. These stations will help the government to fully understand the air pollution situation in New Delhi, especially in winter when the air quality over the city deteriorates. Haryana will also set up 34 monitoring stations, Uttar Pradesh 16 and Rajasthan 9 stations. These stations can automatically detect polluting particles such as SO2, PM2.5 and PM10.
Hindustan Times reported that during “severe plus or emergency” conditions, entry of trucks into Delhi except those carrying essential commodities would be stopped, construction activities will be banned, odd-even vehicle restriction will be implemented and the concerned departments will be authorized to take any additional steps including shutting of schools. During “Severe” levels of pollution, brick kilns and stone crushers will be ordered to stop, Badarpur thermal power plant will be shut down while increasing the production of natural gas, urban public transport capacity will be enhanced, differential charging system will be implemented and the frequency of road cleaning and sprinkling of water will be increased. During “very poor” conditions, diesel generator sets will be banned, parking charges will be hiked three to four times, public transport and metro services will be enhanced, use of coal and firewood in hotels and restaurants will be banned and residents and tenants will stop the usage of electric heating. During “moderate to poor” situations, all waste incineration would be stopped and heavy penalties will be imposed on violators, strict control will be exerted on brick kilns and other related industries, the crowded sections of the roads will be cleaned and sprinkled with water once in every two days, highly polluting motor vehicles will be prohibited on the road and the offenders would be severely punished and traffic police would be stationed at areas facing heavy traffic to maintain a smooth flow of traffic on the roads.
Facing serious air pollution, India has already started a battle against air pollution. In 2016 the Indian government began to use air pollution index to define the degree of air pollution for giving better understanding of air pollution situation to the public. However, some people think that the government’s measures may not be able to play a significant role. The Hindu newspaper of India recently reported that India’s pollution control measures have always been launched in and around the capital. This situation needs to change, and more effective pollution control strategies should be adopted for the entire country.
(People’s Daily, New Delhi, February 13)