Air Pollution in Indian Cities

Air Pollution in Indian Cities

This article deals with ‘Air Pollution in Indian Cities – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Environment’ which is an important pillar of the GS-3 syllabus. For more articles on Environment, you can click here

Data about Air Pollution

  • A study published in Lancet Journal says that polluted air is a cause of one in eight deaths in India and decreases average life expectancy in the country by 1.7 years. 
  • According to Lancet’s Study, air pollution is linked to type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. India has the greatest risk.

Timeline of Delhi Pollution

Air Pollution in Indian Cities

Reasons for rising in Urban Pollution (Delhi in Particular) 

1. Anthropogenic Causes

  • Stubble Burning in Punjab & Haryana by farmers.  
  • An explosion of personal vehicles.    
  • Massive-scale construction work, leading to an increase in the concentration of PM 2.5 & PM 10.

2. Geographical Causes

  • Westerlies: North India is under the influence of westerlies in winter, and these winds take pollutants of stubble burning to Delhi NCR. 
  • Due to the degradation of Aravallis, frequent dust storms from the Thar Desert have now started to reach New Delhi.
  • Temperature Inversion creates a sort of blanket and doesn’t allow air to circulate in winter.
  • Delhi is a continental city & situated on a ridge.

3. Socio-Economic Factors

  • Population Pressure: Delhi acts as an urban magnet due to the presence of job opportunities. 

4. Faulty Policies / Governance Factors

  • Fuel Subsidy on diesel has distorted people’s preference towards buying diesel cars, although Diesel cars emit 4 to 7X more pollutants. 

5. Reasons for the exponential rise in pollution during winters

  • Dip in temperatures: Due to temperature inversion in the winters, the pollutants can’t disperse upwards, thus increasing the concentration of pollutants. 
  • Dip in wind speed: The winds blow at very moderate speeds during winters compared to summers. Due to stagnant winds, these pollutants get locked in the air and affect weather conditions, resulting in smog. 
  • Biomass burning in neighbouring states: Delhi is landlocked between its adjoining areas. Stubble burning in these states, especially in Punjab and Haryana, is considered a significant cause of environmental pollution. 
  • Combustion caused by firecrackers may not be the top reason for the smog, but it contributes to its build-up. 

Measures needed

1. Improve Public Transport

  • A massive system of Public Transport needs to be built, including metros, BRTS and Public Buses.
  • Last Mile Connectivity should also be looked. 

2. Change in Tax Regime

  • Congestion tax should be introduced in the form of high parking rates. The city of London uses this method. 
  • Instead of a one-time registration tax for 15 years, Vehicle tax should be paid annually with registration fees increasing each passing year.    
  • Polluter paysGovernment should impose more tax on vehicles & factories with higher emission levels.

3. Governance Issues

  • India should adopt yearly registration of vehicles instead of 15 years of registration. 
  • Government should educate people to use public transport. For example, Delhi Government’s Ab Bus Karein—let us take a bus Campaign.

4. Road Design innovations

  • Car Pool Lane (CPL) / High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Facility: CPL formula reserves one lane, the fastest, for cars carrying more than one occupant.  

5. Stubble Burning Management

  • Explained in a separate article (click here)

6. Reform Pollution Control Boards

Following changes are required in Pollution Control Boards. 

  • There is a need for a larger cadre of scientists in the Central and State Pollution Control Boards and more monitoring equipment.  
  • Empower Pollution Control Boards to levy graduated fines depending on the seriousness or repeatability of the offence.

7. Other measures

  • Install flue gas de-sulphurizers in all coal power plants. 
  • Reduce pollution from brick kilns: Kilns should be upgraded to cleaner technologies like Zig Zag kiln.

Initiatives already taken by the Government

1. Air Quality Index

2. Graded Response Action Plan

  • It is applicable in Delhi only.
  • A graded response lays down stratified actions that are required to be taken as and when the concentration of pollutants reaches a certain level.

3. Bharat Stage-VI norms from 2020

4. Western and Eastern Peripheral Expressway

  • The Peripheral Expressways have been built to divert the traffic destined for Delhi to bypass Delhi without entering the city.

5. Odd-Even Policy

  • Under the policy, Odd-numbered vehicles are allowed to run on odd dates and even-numbered vehicles on even dates. 
  • (BUT) Delhi is not the first city to introduce this system & earlier, Mexico city, along with many metropolitans, had introduced this but with bitter results. It is seen that these types of policies work well for a limited time but gradually, people lose their enthusiasm and find loopholes to avoid this.  

6. Tree Sapling

  • After Supreme Courts’ order, New  Delhi will get a tree wall of 31 lakh saplings of specialized trees like pipal, mahua, etc., to get rid of dust storms from its western neighbours due to western disturbances.

Examples from other cities

1. Mexico City: Project Via Verde 

  • Following the alarming levels of Pollution in 2016, Mexico city undertook the initiative of turning its 1000 plus columns supporting flyovers and elevated roads into ‘vertical gardens’.

2. Paris

  • In Paris, a Helium balloon hovers over the skyline and changes colour depending on pollution levels.  

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