Baba’s Explainer – India’s uphill battle to bring down air pollution

  • IASbaba
  • October 25, 2022
  • 0
Environment & Ecology, Governance
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  • GS-3: Environmental Conservation: Air Pollution

Context: Air quality in Delhi and adjoining regions has slumped ahead of winter, and the bountiful rains in October has merely delayed the inevitable.

  • AQI has turned either ‘poor’ or ‘severe’ in many parts of Delhi.
  • The Commission for Air Quality Management has instructed industries and construction and demolition sites to follow its directives over the next few days.
  • Also, all citizens must follow a Graded Response Action Plan (Grap).
Why is India considered as home to the world’s most polluted cities?
  • The World Air Quality Report released by Swiss organization IQAir in March 2022 should set alarm bells ringing in India. The study found that 35 of the 50 cities in the world with the worst air quality are in India.
  • Also, no Indian city met the World Health Organization’s air quality standards of 5 micrograms per cubic meter.
  • New Delhi and Kolkata figured in the list of 20 most polluted cities in the world on particulate matter (PM2.5) levels
  • Moreover, New Delhi and Kolkata figured in the list of 20 most polluted cities in the world on particulate matter (PM2.5) levels according to a report by State of Global Air in August.
    • PM 2.5 causes triggers respiratory ailments and affects visibility.
  • For the fourth consecutive year, Delhi was the world’s most polluted capital.
What is the correlation between economic growth and air pollution?
  • High levels of air pollution — and not just in the north Indian states — are a byproduct of the country’s rapid economic growth, with soaring energy needs of industrialization, an explosion in vehicular emissions, and spurt in population with expanding cities.
  • It’s also a global phenomenon, and some of the fastest growing economies have also been the worst air polluters, including the US and China.
  • Now, India is an economy heavily driven by services, but aiming to give a big push to manufacturing which is only about 17% of its GDP now.
    • Union government’s Make in India and the Production Linked Incentive schemes expect to catalyse a manufacturing boom across sectors
  • In this context, the potential damage to environment from increasing industrialization, at a time the country already has some of the world’s most polluted cities at a relatively initial stage of its manufacturing evolution, is a cause of concern.
  • Take the example of Vietnam, which has doubled the share of manufacturing as a share of GDP over the past two decades (India’s manufacturing was just over 15% of GDP during this period). However, it has paid a price for this rapid industralization. According to the World Bank, Vietnam has been the world’s fastest-growing greenhouse emitter over the past two decades.
  • In India, the problem can be exponentially greater, given its size and population. Remember, India, defying global trends, became a services-led economy without becoming a manufacturing tiger first.
How China did it?
  • China too paid a steep price for its economic growth. Growing prosperity boosted air pollution that led to a public health crisis, killing millions every year.
  • Indeed, air pollution in China’s industrialized cities was almost the same as that in London at the height of the Industrial Revolution in 1890. “But China cleaned up its air twice as fast as the United Kingdom did after the Great Smog of postwar London killed 8 000 people”.
  • China has drastically improved the air quality of its cities. It prohibited new thermal power plants and shuttered old plants, curbed vehicular growth and introduced electric bus fleets, among many measures.
  • China unveiled its Air Pollution Action Plan in 2013, and by 2017, it had reduced PM2.5 levels by 33% in Beijing and 15% in the Pearl River Delta.
  • In 2018, China introduced its Three-year Action Plan for Winning the Blue Sky War which sets even steeper targets for its cities.
What norms has been set up WHO regarding Air Pollution?
  • In 2021, the World Health Organisation (WHO), in its first-ever update since 2005, has tightened global air pollution standards because it has been recognised in the past decade that the impact of air pollution on health is much more serious than earlier envisaged.
  • Every year, exposure to air pollution is estimated to cause 7 million premature deaths and result in the loss of millions more healthy years of life.
  • New norms
    • The upper limit of annual PM2.5 as per the 2005 standards is 10 microgram per cubic metre. That has now been revised to five microgram per cubic metre.
    • The upper limit of PM10 is 20 microgram and has now been revised to 15.
    • The 24-hour value has been revised from 50 to 45 microgram.
What leads to severe Air Pollution in National Capital Region?

The reasons for the collapse in air quality are both man-made and natural:

Natural Reasons:

  • Change in Wind Direction: October usually marks the withdrawal of monsoons in Northwest India and during this time, the predominant direction of winds is northwesterly. The direction of the wind is northwesterly in summers as well, which brings the dust from northern Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • Dust Storms: Dust storms from Gulf countries enhance the already worse condition. Dry cold weather means dust is prevalent in the entire region, which does not see many rainy days between October and June. Dust pollution contributes to around 56% of PM10 and the PM2.5 load.
  • Temperature Inversion: As temperature dips, the inversion height is lowered and the concentration of pollutants in the air increases when this happens. Inversion height is the layer beyond which pollutants cannot disperse into the upper layer of the atmosphere.
  • Land Locked Geography: The landlocked geography of Delhi also causes more air pollution as compared to other cities. The north-westerly winds coming from Rajasthan, sometimes Pakistan and Afghanistan bring in the dust to the region. The Himalayas obstruct the escape route of the air. This causes the dust and pollutants to settle in the region. This is more prominent during the winters because of low-level inversion (upward movement of air from the layers below is stopped).

Man-made reasons

  • Vehicular and industrial emissions that get trapped in the winter fog: It is one of the biggest causes of dipping air quality in Delhi in winters and around 20% of PM2.5 in winters comes from it.
  • Fireworks in the run-up to Diwali: It may not be the top reason for air pollution, but it definitely contributed to its build-up.
  • Construction Activities: Due to rising population leading to increased spread of Urbanisation, large-scale construction in Delhi-NCR is taking place. This is another culprit that is increasing dust and pollution in the air.
  • Open Waste Burning: Delhi also has landfill sites for the dumping of waste and burning of waste in these sites also contributes to air pollution.
What measures have authorities taken to control air pollution in NCR region?
  • Odd-even scheme for automobiles to reduce vehicular emissions
  • Mass Rapid Transport System (MRTS) is being built as a means to provide citizens with non-polluting alternative sources of transportation.
  • The adoption of the Bharat Stage VI norms and the big push being given to electric vehicles steps in the right direction in curbing vehicular pollution.
  • Restricting construction activities
  • Banning firecrackers.
  • Anti-smog guns and smog towers are installed and used in the city.
  • Central government provides subsidized machinery to farmers to manage paddy straw.
  • Also, Delhi and Punjab governments uses bio-decomposers on 5,000 acres to prevent stubble burning.
  • Subsidy to farmers for buying Turbo Happy Seeder (THS) which is a machine mounted on a tractor that cuts and uproots the stubble, in order to reduce stubble burning.
  • Development of the National AQI for public information under the aegis of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
    • AQI has been developed for eight pollutants viz. PM2.5, PM10, Ammonia, Lead, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, ozone, and carbon monoxide.
  • Old, polluting vehicles are being phased out, thermal power plants are being eased out and there is a growing emphasis on clean energy sources
    • About 40% of India’s aggregate installed power capacity comes from renewables, and the government hopes to almost treble it to 450 GW by 2030, with 60% of it coming from solar.

Main Practice Question:  Why is India considered as home to the world’s most polluted cities? What measures do you suggest to control air pollution in India?

Note: Write answer his question in the comment section.

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