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For humans to survive, breathing is essential. But what’s equally important is what you and I are breathing. And you’ll be shocked to know that across the globe, nine out of 10 people are breathing unclear air, and ultimately around 7 million people die every year from diseases and infections related to air pollution. On National Pollution Control Day, as India remembers those who lost their lives during the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy, it is apt to discuss the hazards of air pollution, which is the leading environmental risk to health. Around the world, more than 90 per cent of people breathe in air that the World Health Organization considers potentially harmful. In India, three cities – Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai rank among the top 10 cities with the worst air quality indices. This is according to air quality and pollution city tracking service from IQAir, a Switzerland-based climate group that is also a technology partner of the United Nations Environmental Program. The situation is particularly grim in the national capital, where mounting levels of air pollution have triggered concerns of a health emergency. As an immediate measure, the Delhi government has announced closure of all schools in the city till further orders. The Supreme Court has directed the Centre and Delhi government to come out with suggestions to control the pollution within 24 hours. A special bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana said it expected serious action on the ground to bring down pollution levels.

Increasing Air Pollution

  • It is clear that the problem of air pollution has increased very seriously and over the years its intensity and seriousness has grown. In many places there is no proper air quality measurement mechanism. The main constituent of the pollutants are the particulate matter which breaches the standard prescribed by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). CPCB standards are fairly above the international WHO standards. The standards are breached for longer periods of time.
  • There are thermal power plants around Delhi and the polluted air moves towards the neighbouring cities. Many industries are using high sulphur oil which is highly polluted. There are large mounds of solid waste Seasonally farmers of Punjab and Haryana burn their crop residues for preparing their fields for next crop and during the winter the air becomes heavy, there is temperature inversion and the dispersal of the pollutants is very low. During winter we also see people burning fire during night to bear the cold. All this put together has a cumulative effect on the air quality.
  • The thrust towards renewable energy is time consuming and expensive. Construction and demolition are the two major sources of Particulate Matter in the atmosphere. Most of the vegetation has been denuded, there is deforestation taking place and soil erosion acts a source for Particulate Matter pollution.
  • The bad air quality tells you that the governance is not upto mark.
  • It is a huge problem and increasing geographically every year.

Causes of air pollution:

  • It is a yearly problem and seasonal in nature.
  • Spikes are due to different reasons and factors
  • One of the main reasons of increasing air pollution levels in Delhi is crop burning by the farmers in these states. Farmers burn rice stubbles in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
  • Pollution caused by the traffic menace in Delhi is another reason contributing to this air pollution and smog. The air quality index has reached ‘severe’ levels.
  • As the winter season sets in, dust particles and pollutants in the air become unable to move. Due to stagnant winds, these pollutants get locked in the air and affect weather conditions, resulting in smog.
  • Another reason of air-pollution is over-population in the capital. Over-population only adds up to the various types of pollution, whether it is air pollution or noise pollution.
  • Meteorology is also very important factor.
  • Industrial pollution and garbage dumps are also increasing air pollution and building-up smog in the air.

Consequences of Air Pollution:

  • Large number of deaths (around 2000) is attributed due to pollution which is very frightening. The figures may not be correct because they are only estimates. To find out precise data it requires a serious investigation for which neither the man power is available nor are the time and resources available. Therefore we need to take a precautionary approach towards tackling pollution.
  • India has recorded 50% increase in the pre mature deaths linked to PM 2.5 and this is between 1990 and 2015 almost coinciding with the economic liberalisation.
  • Air quality has become a serious health issue because the pollutants entre deep inside the lungs and the lungs capacity to purify bloods gets reduced which affects the person’s growth, mental ability and the working capacity especially for children, pregnant women and elderly people.
  • Poor people are more vulnerable to air pollution because they are the one who spend more time on roads.

Measures to improve air quality:

  • Improving public transport
  • Limiting the number of polluting vehicles on the road
  • Introducing less polluting fuel
  • Strict emission regulations
  • Improved efficiency for thermal power plants and industries
  • Moving from diesel generators to rooftop solar
  • Increased use of clean renewable energy
  • Electric vehicles
  • Removing dust from roads
  • Regulating construction activities
  • Stopping biomass burning, etc.

Way out:

  • Increase public awareness of air pollution. Educate and inform people about what they can do to reduce air pollution. Put out public health messages on the metro, buses, billboards, and radio to help change public behaviour.
  • Raise and enforce emission standards. India is still on Bharat III and IV emission standards for our vehicles and fuels. This is 10-15 years behind the West, where vehicles spew one-tenth of our emissions or less.
  • Improve public transportation and traffic management. Expand the fleet of CNG buses. Implement BRT the right way. Build, repair, and reclaim the sidewalks for pedestrians – not for parking and vending – so people can walk more often, including to nearby bus stops and metro stations.
  • Discourage vehicle use: Driving is not a right but a privilege; it has a social cost. Impose – as many countries do – an annual vehicle use fee. Penalise ownership of multiple cars in a household.
  • Penalise big and non-compliant polluters. Like Beijing, ban the sale and registration of all new private diesel vehicles in Delhi. Provide 24×7 power across the NCR to minimise genset use; ban diesel gensets and promote CNG gensets. Spot-check fuel pumps for adulteration. Move coal-firedbrick/pottery kilns out of the NCR.
  • Reduce road and construction dust. The problem of dust plagues the entire Indo-Gangetic plain. It can be mitigated by changing how our urban surface infrastructure is built.
  • Reduce domestic sources of pollution, improve waste management. According to the 2011 census, over ten percent of Delhi’s households still use biomass for cooking. Remove the address proof requirement for LPG Make LPG more affordable.