Air Pollution

[op-ed snap] Crisis is in the airop-ed snap

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Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: World Health Organisation (WHO), Particulate matter

Mains level: Rising air pollution in Delhi and other Indian cities and measures that can be taken to curb it


Delhi has become world’s air pollution outcaste

  1. Everyone was forewarned (execute as well as legislature) and cannot pretend to be taken unawares
  2. Three years ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that Delhi was the most polluted city in the world
  3. Particulate matter — PM of less than 2.5 microns — was at an annual average of 153 micrograms per cubic metre that year, well above the WHO limit of 35

Consequences of declaring Delhi’s air a “national emergency”

  1. Visitors — whether on business or diplomats — will think three times before visiting Delhi this winter
  2. Children can’t attend school or play outside
  3. There will be financial losses due to days missed at work

Causes of air pollution

  1. Burning of farm residue
  2. Pollutants from thermal power stations in and around the capital
  3. Dust from construction
  4. Pollutants from vehicles

What measures can be taken?

  1. Burning of farm residue require a carrot and stick approach to encourage farmers to recycle crop waste rather than burn it
  2. Stiff penalties can be imposed on thermal power plants and construction sites for not complying with pollution standards
  3. Pollution caused by private vehicles, whether they are four- or two-wheelers, can be curbed by restricting their numbers
  4. Odd-and-even number plate scheme, ought to be extended through the winter
  5. Parking fees ought to be drastically increased, and payable even at night time

International examples

  1. Beijing and other Chinese cities have successfully decreased private vehicles and greatly increased public transport
  2. Shanghai has emulated Singapore’s example of setting a limit on the number of cars permitted on its roads
  3. Singapore allows market forces to decide the price of such a license, which can exceed the cost of a car sometimes
  4. Following London’s example, the proceeds from fine and parking fees should be ploughed back into bettering the bus service

Where are cities going wrong?

  1. Mumbai is building an Rs 15,000-crore coast road only for cars
  2. Mumbai has been spared the ignominy of Delhi when it comes to air pollution, one reason being that the sea breezes waft pollutants away
  3. Once this road is built, all that will change since the prevailing winds are in a south-west direction
  4. All cities are making the mistake of prescribing metros as the solution for local transport
  5. Although far superior to adding roads, these are expensive
  6. In Delhi, the 200-km-plus Metro network doesn’t seem to have reduced the number of cars appreciably, only two-wheelers

What public transport then?

  1. Buses, which can run both long distances in cities, as well as provide last-mile connectivity to and from metros and local railway stations
  2. Reserved bus lanes are the most cost-efficient and egalitarian means of city transport
  3. These penalize the polluters — cars and two-wheelers — and carry commuters comfortably and cleanly
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