Air Pollution

[op-ed snap] Delhi’s air pollution is both a challenge and an opportunityop-ed snap


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Solutions given in the article to counter the menace of Pollution(these are important because the article is written by ex-Vice Chairman of the Planning Commission)


Is Pollution problem confined to Delhi only?

  1. Delhi is not the only polluted city in the country
  2. Eleven of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India

How can success in Delhi(on pollution front) be fruitful for future?

  1. Given the massive expansion we expect in the urban population over the next 20 years, and the need to attract investment to create quality jobs, we need to make our cities liveable and attractive to tourists
  2. Success in Delhi could provide a much needed template for the other cities

The first step of recognizing the issue

  1. Recognizing the problem is the first step towards corrective action and there is progress in this area
  2. A few years ago, an American journalist stationed in Delhi wrote a farewell piece saying that he was leaving Delhi because of air pollution
  3. There was an outburst of nationalistic outrage that the embassy was probably exaggerating the problem
  4. Since then, a number of government monitoring stations have been established in Delhi and they confirm that the problem is indeed serious

CPCB data on pollution

  1. The figure given below reports the level of air pollution by PM 2.5 particles at the Siri Fort station in New Delhi for the 12 months from mid-November 2016 to mid-November 2017

Medical warning by experts

  1. Medical experts in India have warned that children exposed to this level of pollution will develop asthmatic problems much earlier than normal
  2. Pregnant women exposed to high levels of air pollution are more likely to deliver low birth weight babies, with all the permanent health problems that it causes
  3. Senior citizens are also at risk

Limit upto which judiciary can act

  1. Many activists have been working hard at raising consciousness and even pushing the judiciary to act
  2. But judicial pushing can only go so far.
  3. It cannot devise a carefully crafted strategy operating on many fronts

Is it possible to control pollution?

  1. Until a few years ago, Beijing was more polluted than Delhi
  2. The Chinese government took firm action to control local industrial pollution, reduce the use of coal in power plants, and also restrain the sale of cars in Beijing
  3. NASA’s satellite data show a 17% decline in the concentration of fine particulate matter over China between 2010 and 2015. The same data show an increase of 13% over India in the same period

Comprehensive action plan for Delhi
What should be done?

  1. If we want to bring pollution down from the average of 142 to the national standard of 40, we need to
    (a) reduce pollution by as much as 72% and
    (b) ensure that it stays at that level notwithstanding growth of population and economic activity
  2. This will require action on a massive scale by many central ministries and Delhi state government bodies acting on different areas

Plan by the Environmental (Prevention and Control of) Pollution Authority (EPCA)

  1. It was established by the Supreme Court
  2. It has prepared a comprehensive multi-dimensional action plan for control of pollution in Delhi
  3. It includes proposals for
    (1) shifting to cleaner vehicles and fuels,
    (2) restraining the growth in cars and expanding public transport as an alternative,
    (3) stopping pollution from coal-based power plants,
    (4) controlling pollution from industry,
    (5) putting a stop to burning garbage,
    (6) preventing pollution from construction activities and controlling burning of crop residues in neighbouring states

How to control Road Dust?

  1. It contributes about 38% of the pollution
  2. This component is particularly difficult to control since it reflects both poor road conditions with unpaved footpaths, and the use of traditional technology
  3. Vacuum cleaning devices attached to mechanical sweepers will help, but that would require massive investment in equipment, which may be beyond the funding budget of the municipality

How to control Vehicle emission?

  1. Vehicle emissions account for 20% of the pollution and this component is likely to increase as the number of cars multiplies
  2. There is much that could be done in this area
  3. The decision to advance BS VI fuel to 2018 for Delhi, and 2020 for the whole country, is a welcome move
  4. It needs to be accompanied by action to ensure that new cars are all equipped with engines designed for BS VI fuel
  5. The two together will reduce particulate pollution by 70% to 80%

Discouraging car ownership will help

  1. Despite BS VI implementation, the large stock of older cars will remain for many years, and the total number of cars is also expected to expand
  2. Therefore, the total pollution load from automobiles may not come down sufficiently over the near future.
  3. There is no alternative to actively discouraging car ownership and plan a massive shift to public transport in the capital
  4. Discouragement of cars needs to be accompanied by a parallel effort to expand bus and Metro services

Coal power plants near Delhi

  1. We should definitely consider ending the use of coal in power plants located close to Delhi
  2. The present cess on coal needs to be increased steadily over time
  3. And we should encourage the use of gas-based power plants

Burning of waste

  1. Burning mixed municipal waste in Delhi is highly polluting
  2. We need to shift within the next three years to an effective system of separating municipal waste into biodegradable waste which can be converted into
    (1) compost and energy,
    (2) recyclable waste including plastic which can be recycled,
    (3) inert waste which can be converted into refuse-derived fuel for power generation, and
    (4) residual non-combustible waste which has to go to scientific landfills

The way forward

  1. Something along these lines would put us on a credible path to reducing pollution over time
  2. It will take time, but at least we will know when we can start breathing easy
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