New Delhi: Delhi has been continuously facing the wrath of air pollution, but it is not alone. Kolkata has also been in news for a rapid deterioration of air quality. During the past week, the Air Quality Index (AQI) recorded in Kolkata surpassed Delhi’s AQI on many occasions. On Thursday, the 24-hour Air Quality bulletin of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) recorded an AQI of 358 in Delhi which is considered ‘very poor’. While Kolkata recorded an AQI of 223 which is slightly better than Delhi but still way worse than 100 recommended as the safe limit of CPCB.
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According to CPCB, an AQI between 0 and 50 is considered ‘good’, 51 and 100 ‘satisfactory’, 101 and 200 ‘moderate’, 201 and 300 ‘poor’, 301 and 400 ‘very poor’, and 401 and 500 ‘severe’. The harmful tiny pollutant called Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM2.5), which can lodge deeply in the lungs, is the major pollutant in both, Delhi and Kolkata. The amount of PM 2.5 in Kolkata and Delhi is several times more as compared to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) air quality guidelines which state that the 24-hour safe standard for PM 2.5 is 25 μg/m3.
On Thursday, seven areas in Delhi recorded ‘severe’ air quality and 20 ‘very poor’ air quality, said CPCB. The air quality in Delhi is expected to improve gradually in next two to three days due to a slight increase in wind speed, but will be well within the ‘very poor’ limit, the Centre-run System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting (SAFAR) said.
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A study by SAFAR revealed that while stubble burning, which popularly faces most of the blame, contributes only 3 per cent to the air pollution in Delhi-NCR, it is the vehicular and industrial emissions that contribute the most to the increasing levels of greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and methane in the environment leading to air pollution in the region. In Kolkata also, diesel driven vehicles and industrial emissions are major sources of pollution, say experts.
Vivek Chattopadhyay, CSE, “The biggest cause of the spike in pollution in Kolkata is the coal and diesel consumption. Majority of the commercial vehicles use diesel and industries use coal. Current meteorological factors like lack of winds, decreasing temperature and increase in humidity are causing the accumulation of pollutants which results in the smog that these cities are facing now.”
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“The air here in Kolkata is really bad. I wear a mask all the time when I go out. You just cannot breathe normally here”, says Amrita Chatterjee, a resident of Kolkata.
CPCB, though has not studied the reasons behind the alarming levels of pollution in Kolkata, it also blames pollution from vehicles and industries to be major pollution sources, according to a senior official from CPCB Air Lab. He said, “The local factors seem to be affecting the air quality in Kolkata. This situation is being observed every year now since the last few years.”
In August 2016, an expert panel was set up by National Green Tribunal (NGT) that listed 50 steps to clean the air in Kolkata and Howrah which include introducing an alternative mechanism to put a lid on a high number of polluting diesel vehicles in the twin cities of Kolkata and Howrah, introducing remote sensing device (RSD) to monitor smoke emission, increasing number of computerised air monitoring stations from the existing ones, introducing the system of allowing private vehicles with odd and even registration numbers on specific days in the week, monitoring entry of non-BS 4 (Bharat Stage 4) commercial vehicles to twin cities, stop burning of waste in dumping sites in different parts of the state.
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The NGT told the West Bengal government to implement these steps to control pollution by February 2017. Subhas Dutta, an environmentalist, said, “The West Bengal Government did not follow any of the anti-pollution directives of NGT because of which the pollution in Kolkata is topping the pollution chart in the country.”
Recently, Mr. Dutta filed a contempt petition against the government of West Bengal for failing to comply with NGT’s two-year-old directives to combat the problem of pollution in the cities of Kolkata and Howrah. In response to the plea, NGT slapped a Rs. 5 crore fine on the West Bengal government which needs to be paid in two weeks and one crore for every month of delay in payment.
A member of ‘Campaigners for clean air’ said, “It is the time the government wakes up and handles the problem on dirty air promptly.”
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Earlier in this month, even Mumbai suffered poor air quality where the AQI was a ‘severe’ 430 at Mazagaon and ‘very poor’ 353 at Andheri. Experts suggested that this increase in pollution level was also due to the same reasons as Kolkata. Mr. Chattopadhyay said, “In Mumbai, air pollution is because of heavy traffic of private vehicles on road due to the decline in bus services, along with industrial emissions and garbage burning.” He added, “One of the measures that the state governments can take to tackle air pollution is strengthening the public transportation system in their respective states.”
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swachh India campaign lends support to the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, the campaign aims to spread awareness about hygiene and sanitation, the importance of building toilets and making India open defecation free (ODF) by October 2019, a target set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014. Over the years, the campaign has widened its scope to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and menstrual hygiene. The campaign has also focused extensively on marine pollution, clean Ganga Project and rejuvenation of Yamuna, two of India’s major river bodies.