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Insights into Editorial: Amending and updating the 1981 Air Act will help in the battle against pollution


Insights into Editorial: Amending and updating the 1981 Air Act will help in the battle against pollution


Context:

As Delhi’s Air Quality Index crosses 500, the national capital has officially entered the public health emergency category. Schools have been shut, children are complaining of breathing problems.

The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority declared a public health emergency in the Capital as pollution levels entered the ‘severe plus’ category

The concentration of particulate matter PM 10 and PM 2.5 shot up twice the safe limit, when the national capital region’s (NCR) emergency action plan to tackle bad air came into effect, which includes a ban on diesel generator (DG) sets.

 

Deteriorating Air Quality Index:

PM 2.5 concentration breached the 300 micrograms per cubic metre mark in the mornings.

In Delhi, poor quality air irreversibly damages the lungs of 2.2 million or 50 percent of all children

The air quality in Delhi, according to a WHO survey of 1600 world cities, is the worst of any major city in the world.

According to the data provided by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the overall AQI score of Delhi was 504 which prompted the authorities to consider it as public health emergency as it will have adverse health impacts on all, particularly our children.

 

Reasons for sudden increase in Air Pollution in National Capital Region:

  • Air quality index of Delhi is generally Moderate (101-200) level between January to September, and then it drastically deteriorates to Very Poor (301-400), Severe (401-500) or Hazardous (500+) levels in three months between October to December, due to various factors including stubble burning, fire crackers burning during Diwali and cold weather.
  • The deterioration in air quality is due to a combination of accumulated toxins because of local pollution, further spiked by bursting of crackers on Deepavali, stubble burning and extremely adverse weather conditions.
  • Stubble Burning: Stubble burning in Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana is blamed for causing a thick blanket of smog in Delhi during winters.
  • It emits large amounts of toxic pollutants in the atmosphere which contain harmful gases like Methane (CH4), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Volatile organic compounds (VOC) and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
  • Large scale construction in Delhi-NCR is another culprit that is increasing dust and pollution in the air.
  • The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) have declared vehicular emission as a major contributor to Delhi’s increasing air pollution. Vehicles contribute 40% of the total pollution load in the city.
  • People are facing symptoms associated with pollution like irritation in the eyes and throat, dry skin, skin allergies, chronic cough and breathlessness
  • EPCA is a Supreme Court-mandated body that has over a dozen members. It was notified in 1998 by the Union Environment Ministry under the Environment Protection Act.

 

In India, Air Pollution became a Major Public Health Concern:

  • Recently, the Centre for Science and Environment reported that air pollution kills an average 5 out of every 10,000 children in India before they turn five.
  • Similarly, the WHO in 2016 reported that pollution has led to the deaths of over 1 lakh children in India.
  • Air pollution in India is not simply an environmental problem, but a major public health concern.
  • It impacts all those breathing in the polluted air of children, the elderly, women and men alike.
  • As its concentration worsens in India and statistics grow more grim, so do our policymakers’ reactions.
  • Overall, several internationally acclaimed studies have affirmed that life expectancy in India has declined anywhere between two to three years.
  • Statistics show that India is in a worse situation compared to its global counterparts.
  • According to Greenpeace, 22 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities are in India and Delhi has yet again bagged the position of the world’s most polluted capital.
  • These are grim figures, especially when compared to India’s neighbours: Five in China, two in Pakistan and one in Bangladesh.
  • In 2018, India was placed in the bottom five countries on the Environmental Performance Index, ranking 177th out of 180 countries, along with Bangladesh, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nepal.
  • Because of the toxic air and the lax liability system, young children’s health and quality of life are being significantly affected.
  • Currently, breathing in Delhi’s air is similar to smoking 22 cigarettes in a day. One can only imagine the impact on the lungs of our children.

 

Conclusion:

There is a deafening silence at the helm of policymaking because it has not become an electoral priority for political leaders.

Besides a few underfunded programmes, the government shows no willingness to bring a bill or law compelling central and state governments to ensure that its citizens are breathing clean air.

Vacuum and water-cleaning of roads will be intensified, pollution hot spots put under closer scrutiny and emission regulations are enforced under GRAP.

The Delhi government is monitoring data from NASA satellite imagery that warned that air pollution is set to worsen in Delhi on account of increase in the number of incidents of stubble burning in the neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab.

 

Way Forward:

When something as fundamental as the health of our children is at risk, we should devise a more robust, permanent solution to the problem of pollution.

This forms the basis of the need for amending the 1981 Air Act and making it more compatible with contemporary India.

It is therefore essential to retrace our steps back to the Air Act of 1981 that governs our pollution control system.

There is unanimous consensus amongst many court rulings, Parliament Committee reports, media investigations, and several environmentalists that under the 1981 Air Act, the Pollution Control Boards are presently unable to fulfil their mandate as watchdogs against polluting industries.

A new bill will plug many loopholes in the 1981 Act and would align the functions and priorities of the Pollution Boards towards reducing the adverse impact of pollution on human health in India.