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  News, views and some hope for a breathable 2016

News, views and some hope for a breathable 2016

Published : Dec 31, 2015, 11:37 pm IST
Updated : Dec 31, 2015, 11:37 pm IST

As Delhi bids adieu to 2015, the New Year throws up new challenges and opportunities: those of enforcement of means and technologies to curb the perilous levels of air pollution.


As Delhi bids adieu to 2015, the New Year throws up new challenges and opportunities: those of enforcement of means and technologies to curb the perilous levels of air pollution. The previous year will be remembered for the Supreme Court’s landmark judgments — imposing green cess on commercial vehicles entering the capital, banning luxury diesel vehicles, ordering taxis to switch to CNG, etc. — National Green Tribunal orders and hurried decisions by the Delhi government, most notably the odd-even formula.

The first-of-its-kind experiment in India, starting January 1, has hogged media headlines due to people’s anxieties and excitement. While sceptics rue the dilution of the scheme under various exemptions, proponents laud the Kejriwal government for its bold decision and say the move will set a precedent. As vehicles contribute to 9-20 per cent of total particulate matter, sceptics wonder if the rationing scheme will make air breathable.


On the “polluters pay” principle, the experts say every polluting factor (biomass burning, trucks, coal-powered plants, factories etc.) had been penalised, but private vehicles remained proverbial holy cows until the government’s December 4 decision.

Despite expressing reservations on the odd-even scheme, the experts contend it is a good beginning and will boost existing transportation system and prepare the city for such measures in the future.

“For the first time, Delhi is trying to develop an emergency action. It can later become a template when the levels of particulate matter spike. Enforcement, however, is the key,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director at environment thinktank Centre for Science and Environment, adding that concerted efforts on all fronts were needed to tackle the issue.


Apart for temporary actions, the environmentalists emphasise that long-term goals should be aimed at road dust and cleaner fuels, industries and power plants. “Gawalior’s air is as unbreathable as the capital’s, but the former does not have so many vehicles; therefore, the government should pay heed to all poisoning factors,” cautioned a research scholar, on condition of anonymity.

On emission standards, rumours are swirling that the government will enforce by 2020 Bharat Stage (BS) VI from existing BS IV (equivalent to Euro VI), skipping BS V. However, Union road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari had commented, “The draft notification proposes BS V norms to be implemented by April 2019 for new vehicle models and April 2020 for existing vehicle models.”


Beijing’s breakneck industrialisation riding roughshod over climate concerns has turned it into the most unhealthy place to live.

The Chinese capital has chronically observed PM 2.5 (particulate matter) breaching the prescribed limit (60 mpcm) by 10-15 times, unlike Delhi’s particulate figures which oscillate between 200-300 (from “poor” to “severe” category).

Though toxic levels in Delhi are less than China, the latter is lauded for its health advisories, closure of factories and schools and the awareness programme.

“For the Indian government, health is always on the backburner. The government issues neither health advisories for citizens on outdoor exertions nor alerts. That’s why people in Delhi only know about smog, but not health implications due to government’s lackadaisical attitude. We should follow Beijing in bridging the communication gap to highlight this pressing issue,” Sunil Dahiya of Greenpeace told this newspaper.


Healthy life A distant dream

The World Health Organisation in a report estimated that over six lakh people died in India in 2010 due to air pollution. Another study said that Delhi’s particulate pollutants — PM2.5 (the tiniest and most hazardous pollutant which can lodge into lungs) and PM10 — can irreversibly damage lungs and heart. In addition, children whose lungs are in a developing stage and the elderly are more prone to health complications. Unfortunately, there has been no study on health impacts for past 10 years. Kolkata-based Chittranjan National Cancer Institute, under Union health ministry, carried out a study, commissioned in 2005-06, and found that Delhi schoolchildren compared to their counterparts in less polluted areas were 1.8 times more susceptible to contract upper respiratory symptoms (sinusitis, running or stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat and common cold with fever) and two times lower respiratory symptoms (frequent dry cough, sputum-producing cough, wheezing breath, breathlessness on exertion, chest pain, etc).


Amid growing outcry, the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences last week decided to establish a link between respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms and air pollution in Delhi.

On the efficacy of air purifiers and masks, doctors and research scholars seem guarded.

“There are two things here. First, the symbolic value of these devices, second, it can provide a bit of protection from unhealthy air. But at the same time you can’t be complacent about it,” observed Prof S.K. Chhabra from Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute.

Box: Efforts to improve state of air

April 6: PM Modi launches real-time AQI for 10 cities, including Delhi Oct. 7: NGT orders commercial vehicles entering capital to pay ECC, besides corporation tax Oct. 12: Supreme Court uphold NGT ruling and imposes ECC to be collected from Nov.1 from commercial vehicles entering Delhi: `700 for light vehicles and `1,400 for three-axle vehicles or above Oct. 22: In a symbolic move, Kejriwal leads Delhi’s first car-free day Nov. 7: After delay of seven days, toll contractor starts collecting green cess Dec. 4: Delhi government declares odd-even formula for cars from January 1, 2016. Later, it dilutes the rationing by releasing list of 25 exemptions. Dec. 4: State decides to shut down ageing Badarpur and Rajghat thermal power stations Dec. 16: Supreme Court temporarily bans diesel-guzzling SUVs and high-end over 2000cc engine capacity. It doubles ECC for commercial vehicles entering Delhi: `700 to `1,400 for light vehicles and `1,300 to 2,600 for heavy. It order all taxis to switch to CNG by March 1, 2016. Dec. 19: SC-mandated environment panel (EPCA) moots to extend ban on luxury diesel vehicles to national capital region


Location: India, Delhi, New Delhi