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Air pollution in North India

Air pollution in New Delhi and other parts of North India had dominated the headlines over the past few weeks. The problem is especially urgent because the capital of India is not the only polluted city in the country. But, some of the top polluted cities in the earth belong to India. With urban expansion and population expanding in the next 20 years, we need to make our cities liveable. Besides, ensuring clean air for every citizen of the country will require a long-term plan and sustained effort. The first step is to realize that air pollution affects residents across the country, and across seasons.

Causes of Air Pollution

Ecological causes:Geographical location of North Central India does not provide it the benefit where regular flow of land breeze and sea breeze takes pollution to deep sea and saves the cities and town. But, polluted air and particular matter stays over the Delhi and North Central India.

Major portion of North Central India lies in Indo-Gangetic plains which are characterized by loose top soil easily getting into the air and making matter worse.

Environmental causes: Stubble burning is major concern as most of the rice and wheat farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh burn the matter. This is done, to avoid new cost for transportation. This process emits particular matter in the air and creates smog. Rise in vehicles and resultant increase in automobile pollution. The main reason is to do the fact the like rise in income level of people working in IT sector, rising cost of land due to booming construction sector also lead to rise in income level. This fact was aptly supported easy availability of loans for vehicle purchase lead to substantial increase in vehicle owner¬ship. Booming construction sector, leading to cutting of tress and deforestation reduces the capability of environment to bear the pollution level. Besides, road dust contributes about 38 – 40 per cent of the pollution. This component is particularly difficult to control since it reflects both poor road conditions with unpaved footpaths, and the use of traditional technology—hand-held brooms—for sweeping the streets.

Policy related causes : Policy steps to curb pollution are mostly confined to short-term measures rather than good and effective long-term solutions such as evolving public transport and making stable transport a cost-effective affair. Besides, there is inter-state rivalry between Punjab, Haryana and Delhi leading to State governments blaming each other for the problem rather than taking cogni¬zance and acting in coordination. Monitoring of Air is not adequate for places other than Delhi. For example, India’s largest State Uttar Pradesh has only 9 air monitoring stations, whereas Delhi has as many as 28 of them.

Can pollution be controlled ?

Yes. Supreme Court has established the Environmental (Prevention and Control of) Pollution Authority (EPCA), which had prepared a comprehensive multi-dimensional action plan for control of pollution not just in Delhi, but throughout the country. One of the major proposals include shifting to cleaner vehicles and fuels, restraining the ever increasing growth in cars and advocating and promoting public transport as an alternative. The proposal also advised stopping pollution from coal-based power plants, controlling pollution from industry, putting a stop to burning garbage, preventing pollution from construction activities and controlling burning of crop residues in neighboring states. In order to implement these goals, some of the actions have to be taken by the central government and others by the Delhi state government and local bodies. But strict actions that have to be taken by the central government are also spread across different ministries.

Though, discouraging car ownership calls for many tough decisions. We need to increase the taxation of cars by introducing an annual or biannual licence fee, as we have for buses. We also need to introduce higher parking charges in the areas of the city that are congested and the charges should be high enough to discourage car usage. We need to eliminate the current favorable tax treatment of diesel compared with petrol to discourage the trend to use diesel vehicles, especially SUVs. The WHO has classified diesel as a No 1 carcinogenic gas in the world, along with tobacco. Diesel need not be banned since its use in sparsely populated areas will not create excessive pollution, but it should definitely be discouraged in urban locations. A higher licence fee could be prescribed for diesel vehicles.

In the longer run, electrification of cars and scooters will solve the problem. To accelerate adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) we should announce that all taxis and three wheelers must compulsorily be made electric in Delhi and other places in North India, as soon as such vehicles become available.

Burning mixed municipal waste in New Delhi and other places in North India is highly polluting. 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 compost and energy, recyclable waste including plastic which can be recycled, inert waste which can be converted into refuse-derived fuel for power generation, and residual non-combustible waste which has to go to scientific landfills. This is a challenge for the Delhi government which it should take on.