New Delhi: As the world’s largest democracy undergoes general elections, air pollution, the reason for more than 12 lakh premature deaths in India in 2017 as per State of Global Air report 2019, managed to find a mention in the manifestos of major political parties. Sunil Dahiya, Clean Air Campaigner at Greenpeace says that air pollution becoming an election agenda was expected since hardly any day last year was a good day in terms of air quality in major cities like Delhi, Gurugram (erstwhile Gurgaon), Ghaziabad, Kanpur, Lucknow and Kolkata and people started raising concerns on the same. Ravina Kohli, activist and founder of an association of air pollution crusaders called ‘My Right To Breathe Movement’, however, observes that even though air pollution got a mention, it is still on the back seat as none of the parties gave details on what entails their plan on fighting air pollution. She said, “Every year lakhs of people suffer due to pollution but we have still not taken cognizance of emergency levels of toxicity in the air. I think we need a stronger political will to urgently tackle the pollution crisis in the country.” Amidst the election season, we bring to you a lookback at how big a problem of air pollution is in India and what the major political parties are promising on tackling this issue.
Air Pollution Finds A Mention On Election Documents
From promising measures ranging from strengthening National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), which aims to reduce particulate matter (PM) pollution by 20%-30% in at least 102 cities by 2024, introducing new emission standards to promoting electric vehicles to fight pollution, major political parties such as Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), Indian National Congress (INC), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) have included air pollution as one of their agendas for election this time.
Bharatiya Janta Party
BJP’s election manifesto promises to focus on the implementation of NCAP in 102 most polluted cities in the country. It says,
We will reduce the level of pollution in each of the mission cities by at least 35 percent over the next five years.
BJP’s manifesto also promises to reduce crop burning by 100 per cent by 2022.
Indian National Congress
INC’s manifesto calls air pollution a national public health emergency. It promises to strengthen the National Clean Air Program to tackle pollution. The manifesto says,
All major sources of emission will be targeted, mitigated and reduced to acceptable levels.
Congress manifesto also promises to establish new environmental standards and regulations in the country. It also promises setting up an independent Environment Protection Authority (EPA), replacing all the other existing bodies exercising jurisdiction and power on environmental matters.
Aam Aadmi Party
Communist Party Of India-Marxist
CPI-M promised to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and carbon mono-oxide through regulation and energy efficiency in all sectors but does not mention air pollution.
Anumita Roychowdhury, head of the air pollution and clean energy at Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) called parties including air pollution in their manifestos, a good sign. She said,
It is a good sign that parties have not ignored air pollution but the intent and the purpose have to get much clearer and sharper through strong political mandate for real actions afterward.
A Lookback At Air Pollution Crisis In India
According to the World Air Quality Report 2018, India is home to 15 out of 20 most polluted cities on Earth. As per the report, Gurugram topped the list and was joined by cities like Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Noida, Patna, Delhi, Lucknow, Moradabad, and Agra. Delhi gained the tag of the most polluted city on the planet on the day after the festival of Diwali as the city suffered from smoky air and dangerous levels of particulate pollution with particulate matter (PM) 10 (particles of 10 microns) concentration reaching over 1000 per cubic metre of air at few places like Anand Vihar, Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, and Hauz Khas near IIT-Delhi.
To provide an evidence, based on Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) data, Mr. Dahiya recently created a calendar revealing that air pollution is a year-round problem due to vehicular emissions, erratic construction activities, burning of waste and industrial fumes, and stubble burning. He also said that while various state governments and pollution control boards tried a number of pollution abatement strategies prescribed in the emergency action plan to combat pollution Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) like banning the entry of heavy vehicles in the city, shutting polluting industries, halting construction activities, and sprinkling water on dusty roads, are taken only on days with high pollution but there is an immediate need for measures that can work every day.
Among confusing numbers on AQI categories for air quality in Delhi during 2018, here is the simplified depiction of data. Don't be surprised, it still tells the same old story:
# #Airpollution is a year around problem
# There was no good air day in Delhi in 2018@CPCB_OFFICIAL pic.twitter.com/JYxdbfRquK
— Sunil Dahiya (@Sunil_S_Dahiya) April 15, 2019
As per an analysis of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), 68 cities across India indicated deteriorating air quality during most of 2018. The air in these cities was a mix of pollutants like particulate matter (PM) 10 (particles of 10 microns) and PM2.5 (particles of 2.5 microns), Ozone, Carbon Monoxide (CO), Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) and Sulphur Dioxide (SO2).
During the course of last year, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) found that vehicular pollution was the cause of 28 per cent of PM2.5 emissions in Delhi. However, Ms. Roychowdhury, asserted that not just Delhi, vehicular pollution is also a major reason for toxic air in mega cities like Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Chennai.
Along with vehicular emissions, stubble burning which mostly takes place during the onset of winter, mainly in the states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan affects the air quality of the northern states further. Farmers burn paddy as they clear the fields for sowing the next crop and have only a little window of days to prepare their land for sowing wheat. As many as 65,408 events of stubble burning were recorded in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh by satellite surveillance between September 30 and November 15, the peak time of stubble burning by the Indian Agriculture Research Institute.
However, the centre-run System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR) said that while it is a burning issue related to air pollution, stubble burning contributes only three per cent of the total pollution in Delhi- NCR. The government, civil society, and scientists have come together and are working on better and more feasible solutions for managing the farm waste in order to stop the practice in the current year.
Like previous years, Delhi smog made to the headlines again in the winters of 2018. Thick toxic smog engulfed the city for the most part of winter due to pollution from the burning of rice stubble, diesel engines, coal-fired power plants and industrial emissions. The situation was similar in the neighbouring areas of Delhi such as Gurugram, Noida and Ghaziabad. Other major cities like Kolkata, Lucknow, and Mumbai also suffered the wrath of smog during the winter of 2018.
What Government Has Done So Far To Curb Pollution
When it comes to government interventions, experts observed that during last year, barring a few judiciary interventions and policy decisions, actions taken on the ground have been less than effective, like in previous years.
In the past year, the Supreme Court announced a country-wide ban on manufacture and sale of more polluting Bharat Stage IV (or BS IV) vehicles from April 1, 2020, after which only less polluting BS-VI vehicles will be sold. BS emission standards are instituted by the government to regulate the output of air pollutants from motor vehicles.
Additionally, to curb vehicular emissions, electric vehicles started receiving a push from the central government. Reinforcing itsintention of having at least 30 per cent of vehicles on road as electric by 2030, the government of India launched the second phase of the FAME (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid and) Electric Vehicles) India scheme that aims to promote electric mobility by providing subsidies to the buyers. Because of these efforts, various states of India like Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and West Bengal have started adopting electric-mobility by including electric buses in their fleets.
Bursting of firecrackers for celebrating festivals, were put into monitoring under a verdict by the apex court in an effort to curb air pollution caused during festivities. However, gross violations of the apex court’s order were observed during Diwali and New Year’s Eve with rampant burning of toxic firecrackers across the country. Over 550 cases of violation were registered in Delhi alone. Mr. Dahiya said,
While the apex court’s verdict did bring recognition of the harmful consequences of burning crackers, the violations, however, are not unexpected. An overnight change in behavior because of court’s orders cannot be expected.
Earlier this year, the central government also launched the NCAP. Under this programme, each of the selected cities is required to prepare a plan to curb air pollution.
The hazardous state of air quality during most parts of the last year brought many cities of the country to a standstill multiple times. Even after a slew of measures taken by the governments, no relief was to be found. Experts say that to deal with rising air pollution, the new government must implement activities listed in NCAP in a transparent manner with adequate budgets and strict timelines. Apart from this, year-round awareness programmes on air pollution as public health issues must be designed by the new government and an early warning system must be built.
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.