Initiatives and Measures for Prevention of Air Pollution – All India Radio (AIR) IAS UPSC

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  • October 6, 2020
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Initiatives and Measures for Prevention of Air Pollution

Search 20th September, 2020 Spotlight here: http://www.newsonair.com/Main_Audio_Bulletins_Search.aspx     

TOPIC: General Studies 3:

  • Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

Key Statistics:

  • India accounts for two-thirds of the world’s most polluted cities — 21 of the most polluted 30 cities; 14 of the highest 20; and 6 of the highest 10 — in the 2019 World Air Quality Report released by the pollution tracker IQAir and Greenpeace. The ranking is based on a comparison of PM2.5 levels. Among countries, when population is taken into account, average PM2.5 pollution is highest in Bangladesh, followed by Pakistan, while India is at number 5.
  • Globally some 9 million premature deaths a year are associated with air pollutants, such as fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5. Regrettably, 14 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in India. The air in Ghaziabad, Delhi, and Noida is particularly hazardous. Last year, a public health emergency was declared as post-Diwali New Delhi’s air quality index approached 500, the “severe plus emergency” category.

Ranked as the world’s fifth most vulnerable country to climate change, India must respond to alerts on communicable diseases linked to GHGs. 

  • Global warming intensifies heat waves and worsens respiratory illnesses. 
  • Locust swarms in Jaipur and Gurugram have been linked to climate change. 
  • Evidence is also emerging on a link between global warming and the emergence of diseases.
  • Mosquito-borne diseases in India have been connected to global warming through both increased rainfall and heat waves.

There are four main sources of air pollution: Stationary sources such as industries, power plants and factories; mobile sources or vehicular transport; area sources such as agricultural tracts and cities; and natural sources, which include volcanoes, cyclones and wildfires.

Impact of Lockdown on the Ambient Air Quality

  • PM2.5 reduced by 24 per cent during the pre-lockdown phase and further reduced by almost 50 per cent during the lockdown phases as compared to levels observed during 2019.
  • PM10 reduced by a massive 60 per cent, with NO2 levels falling by 64 per cent, Benzene by 62 per cent and SO2 by 35 per cent, during the second phase of lockdown as compared to levels in the same time period in 2019

A study revealed that sources associated with vehicular emissions, domestic/local coal combustion, waste incineration and urban organic aerosols reduced sharply from the pre-lockdown phase into lockdown phase-I and were found to steadily rise back with increasing relaxations in the lockdown.

Irreversible emission reductions through sustainable process changes and long-term objectives is crucial for achieving good air quality levels. However, as the impact of various anthropogenic activities is now being quantified, actions that can be integrated in business as usual scenarios need to be identified, with emphasis on reduction of emissions at source including dust control, vehicular emissions, industrial operations, etc.

Air pollution’s insidious link to the coronavirus pandemic

A study published in 2003 found that higher air pollution caused greater deaths from SARS, which was caused by a cousin of the current strain of coronavirus. A range of studies have found that air pollutants are linked to increased risk from influenza-type illnesses.

There is an association between pollution levels in cities (despite the improvements during the pandemic) and COVID-19 infections and death rates, a link observed in New York City and the northern provinces of Italy. Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Tamil Nadu, in the top tier of pollution concentration, have also seen high deaths and infections per thousand people.

Initiatives by the Government

A. National Clean Air Programme

A long-term, time-bound, national-level strategy to tackle the increasing air pollution problem across the country in a comprehensive manner. The total tentative cost of NCAP is estimated at Rs 637 crore.

Objective: Comprehensive management plan for prevention, control and abatement of air pollution, besides augmenting the air quality monitoring network across the country.

Focuses on: Collaborative and participatory approach covering all sources of pollution and coordination between relevant central ministries, state governments, local bodies and other stakeholders

  • Intensive awareness, training and capacity-building drive, with specific impetus on augmentation of manpower and infrastructure facilities of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the state pollution control board (SPCBs)
  • A credible, transparent and accountable data collection and monitoring system that is available for timely swift action is to be ensured
  • Increasing the number of monitoring stations, data dissemination, public participation on planning and implementation
  • Setting up of air information centre for data analysis, resource apportionment studies, national inventory and rural monitoring stations, besides guidelines for indoor air pollution

Recently, The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) to modify the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) 

  • Deadline to reduce air pollution by 20-30% by 2024 needs to be reduced.
  • Increase the target of reduction.
  • Review the action in terms of shift to e-vehicles and CNG vehicles, intensifying public transport systems, mechanical cleaning of roads, improvement in fuel quality, etc.
  • Ensure the assessment and installation of the requisite number of Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Systems within six months.

B. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)

  • It is a statutory organisation under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (Mo.E.F.C). 
  • It was established in 1974 under the Water (Prevention and Control of pollution) Act, 1974
  • It is also entrusted with the powers and functions under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981. 
  • It provides technical services to the Ministry of Environment and Forests under the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. 
  • It Co-ordinates the activities of the State Pollution Control Boards by providing technical assistance and guidance and also resolves disputes among them. 
  • It is the apex organisation in country in the field of pollution control. 

C. LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging):

Being used to vertically monitor the air quality of Delhi-NCR

  • To track the evolution of a pollutant over time
  • To detect leakage of organic pollutants in storage facilities and industrial plants, such as oil refineries
  • To observe the structure and height of mixing layers
  • To measure the transport and diffusion of plumes or clouds of particulates
  • To remotely determine smoke-plume opacity

D. Climate & Clean Air Coalition

  • Unites governments, civil society and private sector, committed to improving air quality and protecting the climate in next few decades by reducing short-lived climate pollutants (SLCP) across sectors
  • By the governments of Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico, Sweden and the United States, along with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
  • Objective: To address short-lived climate pollutants.
  • Initial focus on: Methane, black carbon, and HFCs

E. National Air Quality Index (AQI)

  • The AQI is an index for reporting daily air quality. It tells how clean or polluted the air is. 
  • The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health Concern. 
  • Research studies have attributed the key sources of PM2.5 in summer to be: dust and construction activities (35%), transport sector (20%) and industry (20%).
  • Would measure
  1. Particulate Matter 2.5
  2. Ozone
  3. Carbon monoxide
  4. Ammonia
  5. Lead
  6. Nitrogen oxide
  7. Sulpher dioxide
  8. PM 10

Six AQI categories

 AQI  Associated Health Impacts
 Minimal Impact
 May cause minor breathing discomfort to sensitive people.
Moderately polluted
 May cause breathing discomfort to people with lung disease such as asthma, and discomfort to people with heart disease, children and older adults.
 May cause breathing discomfort to people on prolonged exposure, and discomfort to people with heart disease
Very Poor
 May cause respiratory illness to the people on prolonged exposure. Effect may be more pronounced in people with lung and heart diseases.
 May cause respiratory impact even on healthy people, and serious health impacts on people with lung/heart disease. The health impacts may be experienced even during light physical activity.

F. Centre-run System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR)

  • It was indigenously developed by Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune. 
  • It is run by India Meteorological Department (IMD).
  • The objective is to provide Real-time air quality index on 24×7 basis with colour coding along with 72-hour advance weather forecast. 
  • Another goal is to issue health advisory to prepare citizens well in advance.

G. GreenCo Rating System

  • GreenCo Rating system has been acknowledged in India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) document. 
  • It is used as a proactive voluntary action of Indian industry / private sector towards combating climate change.
  • It is developed by Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
  • CII is a non-government, not-for-profit, industry-led and industry-managed organization

The Way Forward

There is a need to urgently confront air pollution and global warming and strengthen health systems. The short-term respite from air pollution that most big cities in the world experienced was because of lockdown measures that will save some lives, but only long-term reductions in air pollution can have lasting impacts.

Spending on reducing air pollution and GHGs provides estimated health benefits of 1.4 to 2.5 times more than the cost of the actions. 

  • Delhi, set to overtake Tokyo as the most populous city by 2030, needs to deal with transport, responsible for two-fifth of the PM 2.5 in the skies. Reforms should encourage public transportation in place of the 10 million vehicles, expand electric vehicles, and provide inter-connectivity between the metro and buses.
  • In managing health risks, emission reduction should be coupled with a stronger public health system. Right now, government spending on health is just 1.6% of GDP, low for a lower middle-income country. Most countries, including India, fail the test of readiness for health disasters, according to the 2019 Global Health Security Index.
  • Governments would be hard-pressed to impose measures designed for an international pandemic to address environmental issues like air pollution. It is also not pragmatic to impose a blanket lockdown to address air pollution. Policy decisions will have to balance socio-economic considerations with health imperatives. Inter-generational equity should be the thrust of such efforts.
  • The government can consider promoting innovation in the private sector in matters pertaining to the environment. Individual sectors can be made custodians of regions to curb pollution. For instance, green indices of companies can be made a factor in their market valuation. Similarly, instead of adding fuel/carbon tax at the time of issuing flight tickets, the same could be added to the yearly tax returns to make a person aware of his/her carbon footprint. Some of these measures can be scaled globally within a short time.

Improving access to public transport, electrifying the transport fleet, raising regulations or pricing emissions on power plants and factories, and developing new technology alternatives to polluting industries, such as steel and cement – all of these measures lead to cleaner air (and lower carbon emissions).

Scientific warnings do not indicate the time and place of calamities but do call for confronting air pollution and global warming and strengthening health systems before the next health emergency that is surely going to happen. Health crisis has cleaned up air. It is global community’s duty to carry that forward.


  1. Ozone pollution increased in several cities during the lockdown

According to an analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) – 

  • While particulate matter and nitrous oxide levels fell during the lockdown, ozone increased in several cities.  
  • Ozone is a highly reactive gas and even short-term exposure of an hour is dangerous for those with respiratory conditions and asthma. 
  • Eight-hour average is considered for ozone instead of the 24-hour average for other pollutants

Do you know? 

  • Ozone is not directly emitted by any source but is formed by photochemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and gases in the air under the influence of sunlight and heat.  
  • It can be curtailed only if gases from all sources are controlled. 
  1. What is PM2.5?

PM2.5: Includes pollutants, such as sulfate, nitrates and black carbon, which pose the greatest risks to human health.

  • PM2.5 is a particulate matter in the atmosphere that has a diameter of 2.5 micrometres, which is around three per cent the diameter of a human hair.
  • These particulate matters reduce visibility and even cause respiratory problems.
  • Owing to its small size, it can easily pass through a person’s nose and throat and cause chronic diseases such as asthma, heart attack, bronchitis and other respiratory problems by making way the circulatory system.

Must Read: Economy vs Clean air

Connecting the Dots:

  1. Why have governments not been able to enforce such environmental measures proactively? Why is the current situation a by-product of managing a pandemic?
  2. Why do some places on earth experience heavier air pollution than others? What role does climate play in this? Examine.  
  3. How is air quality measured? Discuss the parameters and indicators of Air Quality Index.

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