Diwali post or post Diwali?


We found our way to the other world!

Last night, we were on our terrace watching the sky lit up. The peace of watching the sky bloom like a shy bride, with the person you love, is incomparable. We had finished all our crackers. Tubri or Anaar has always been my favourite… Not the conical ones but the ones in earthen balls because they spill stars. We got plenty of them. We lit the sparkling fire-fountains one by one… and marvelled at them. It was perhaps the fourth or the fifth one, when I saw the smoke that silently goes up, unnoticed while everyone is busy watching the fireworks. The dark smoke creeps up like a rebel guest trying to escape an embarrassing party.

Later, when other people of the apartment were busy lighting up their crackers with family, kids, friends… we stole a quieter corner of the terrace for ourselves and saw the beauty of the Delhi sky on Diwali. A Faanush (sky lanterns) floating, bloated with promises and wishes, colourful fireballs doing all sort of acrobatics… we tried to imagine the talent of firecracker makers who manage to crumple and stuff their beautiful vision in a roll of cardboard with just layers of something so, so grey and dark.

And as the crackers lit up the sky and burst so close to us that it lit our faces and smiles, we could see our sadness and worries, creep out of us like jailbirds.

We woke up to the news how polluted Delhi air had become. We had felt the heaviness of the trapped ambitions, insecurities, worries, jealousy, adulthood in the air last night. Who could imagine that humans could derive pleasure from such a thing? Who invented firecrackers? Chinese? Who also invented kites? But who was it exactly? One man or woman? Who knew how to satiate the animal in each one of us and yet with such incredible beauty?

I just wish such beautiful things did not come with a price so heavy.


Wanted: clean air and water for Delhi

After the overwhelming victory of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Delhi assembly polls, when Arvind Kejriwal takes oath as chief minister next Sunday, will he keep coughing as he habitually does? The AAP convenor has a chronic respiratory problem, caused by the poisonous mix that goes by the name of air in India’s capital.

There are days when Delhi competes with Beijing for the dubious distinction of being the world’s most polluted megacity. A dirty blanket of carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and soot envelops the city and hides the sun for much of the winter. The pollution routinely reaches the “alarming” level by the standards of the India Meteorological Department, though there is no system of issuing public warnings.

Nor was there any talk of air pollution during the poll campaign that occurred under this smog blanket. And this in a city where respiratory ailment numbers are many times the global average.

Reva Bisht, a 36-year-old homemaker who lives in Patparganj, East Delhi, recently shifted to a bigger house to provide her parents an extra room when they come to visit her from Almora, Uttarakhand. For the last two years, her parents have had to come to Delhi once in every two months to get their medical check-up at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

However, on each visit, Reva’s 80-year-old father complains of cough, wheezing and shortness of breath. “They are hill people. They are used to clean air. He suffers from a lot of breathing trouble when he comes to Delhi. They have been thinking of discontinuing their treatment at AIIMS because of this. My father says old age ailments in Almora are less painful than choking every day in a city like Delhi,” says Reva, blaming the polluted air of India’s capital.

“A study (by the World Health Organization) has found that Delhi is the most polluted city in the world when it comes to air quality,” adds Reva to validate her point.

She belongs to the 67% of Delhi’s voters who voted on February 7. Even when the polluted air of the city peeves her the most, she voted over water issues. “Not one political party promised clean air. The next most important issue was water and that’s what I voted for,” clarifies Reva.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), AAP and the Congress ran quite aggressive campaigns before the Delhi assembly elections, but their manifestoes did not have much to offer when it came to environmental problems in the city. Some parties merely did a touch-and-go. BJP stressed clean energy. Congress promised to increase Delhi’s green cover by 25%. The AAP manifesto was more detailed. It promised to check deforestation of the Delhi Ridge, improve public transport to reduce congestion by cars, provide incentives for low emission fuels like CNG and electric vehicles, encourage car-pooling and a crackdown on fuel adulteration to reduce pollution. But, its major plank remained 700 litres of free water to each Delhi household every day.

“Well, who cares if there is deforestation in Delhi ridge? Even if the public transport is improved, I will continue travelling by my car and my car is petrol driven. So, honestly, these promises sound good but will it benefit me?” asks Ankit Jain, a 56-year-old businessman. Jain agrees that pollution level in Delhi should be checked but does not make the link between clean air and public transport or low emission fuels.

However, Jain understands the economics of 700 litres of free water. “Free water means a lower water bill. The political party also promised a lower electricity bill. Of all the promises being made by the political parties, these results are attainable. This affects me directly and so, this is something a person can vote for,” he says.

So is average Delhi resident not concerned about environmental problems?

Anumita Roychowdhury, expert on transport and clean air at the think tank Centre for Science and Environment, says there is public concern about these problems which gets reflected in the media. Several newspapers have run campaigns to clean Delhi’s air. Another major intervention in this front has been by the judiciary through Public Interest Litigations (PILs) suits. This shows that people are concerned, says Roychowdhury.

But there are no road shows, rallies or social media campaigns to force the government to take action. One possible reason is the lack of a common platform. Plus, people may be aware of a problem and want to do something about it but they may not be aware of the solution. If a car owner is charged extra parking fees to check rising number of cars, he may not understand the connection. “People have to be made more aware of the solutions,” says Roychowdhury.

What about the water

People are forced to choose from what political parties offer. But when they speak for 700 litres of free water, is it truly a positive change or another delusion?

The AAP promise of 700 litres of free water a day to each household is for homes with water connections provided by the government. But 32% of Delhi’s 2.5 million households are without such connections, according to government estimates. The party has assured that all homes will benefit, but has not said how. Till it finds a way, the poorest will be paying the most for water, since they are the ones without the connections. About 25% of the city area remains uncovered by piped water supply. According to a recent survey by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), 16% of Delhi’s urban households and 30% of its rural ones don’t get sufficient drinking water throughout the year.

India’s Ministry of Urban Development has set a benchmark of providing 135 litres per capita per day (LPCD) of water. The AAP has promised 140 LPCD. Taking leakage into account, this will mean having to supply 175 LPCD.

“Supplying 175 LPCD is too much and against global practice. This can easily be reduced to 110 LPCD with conservation efforts like using mug and bucket in place of flush or shower,” says Manoj Mishra, convener of the conservation NGO Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan. He also suggests that instead of providing free water, government should have tariffs and charge as low as 50 paise (less than a cent) per litre for the first 700-litre bracket.

Mishra also points out that none of the manifestoes promised anything about Yamuna, the lifeline of Delhi that has been reduced to a drain due to high pollution and encroachment of the river bed.

He says that the 22 km stretch of Yamuna in Delhi is the most threatened stretch of any river in the country, even after Rs 1,500 crore (US$241 million) has been spent since 1994 in an effort to clean it. The National Green Tribunal recently set a fresh roadmap with a 2017 deadline for its rejuvenation.

R.K. Pachauri, head of The Energy and Resources Institute, recently said that the political class would deliver what the voters demanded of them. “We (the people of Delhi) really don’t have that sense of pride, belonging and connection with the city…Why is it that we don’t articulate the importance of such issues so that the political parties and their candidates can be held accountable for what they are going to do in this particular area? I would expect that the public would be asking questions of the candidates on what they are going to do to clean up Delhi’s air.”

This has not happened during the campaign. It remains to be seen if the new government will do anything about it.


Breathing gets more injurious to health in India’s capital


The air that residents of New Delhi breathe cuts three years off their life spans, says a recent study by Michael Greenstone of the University of Chicago.

The study, involving environmental economists from Harvard and Yale universities as well, says, “Bringing all regions of the country into compliance with air quality norms would increase the life expectancy of the millions of people living in these areas by 3.2 years on average or a total of about 2.1 billion life years.”

The study quotes data from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), which reveals that 77% of Indian cities and towns exceeded national air quality standards for dangerous airborne particles known as PM10 in 2010.

Estimates from the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggest that 13 of the 20 cities in the world with the worst fine particulate (PM2.5) air pollution are in India, including New Delhi, the worst-ranked city. India has the world’s highest rate of death caused by chronic respiratory diseases.

Public apathy, government myopia, climate fallout

Any corrective measure comes up against public apathy, especially the ambition of every resident to buy ever-larger cars that use diesel. Any move to equate the costs of diesel and petrol faces opposition from farmers who use diesel irrigation pumps – a fact used to great effect by car manufacturing lobbies.

As for the government, it continues to advocate the use of coal as the mainstay of power generation in India. The country has increased its coal generation capacity by 73% in the last five years, and current plans are to add another 110 GW of coal power by 2022. Supporters of this policy say it is the only way out, as electricity generated by burning coal is cheaper than by using sunlight or wind. But this does not take into account the cost that individual Indians bear to treat respiratory diseases caused by coal burning. Nor does it take into account the lost productivity as millions of people are unable to go to work due to such diseases. Nor does it take into account the destruction caused by coal mining.

Coal burning is the biggest contributor to India’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The country is already the world’s third largest emitter of GHGs, which are causing climate change. In this year when an international deal to combat climate change is being negotiated, India is under pressure from the global community to rein in its emissions. But the government is refusing to take any step on the coal burning issue, on the plea that around 300 million Indians who are outside the power grid must get electricity. While that need is irrefutable, using coal power for the purpose is estimated to take global GHG emissions on a steep upward curve, while affecting the health of millions of Indians.

Health affected already

The study says that broad areas of the country, particularly in north India, are well out of compliance with the standard. This non-compliance holds in rural as well as urban areas. Fine particles can travel long distances from where they are originally emitted, imposing health costs on even those people who live far from major sources of pollution.

Rural India also directly faces particulate air pollution from local sources, such as biomass combustion. The study states that over half the population – 660 million people –  live in regions that do not meet national air quality standards (40 μg/m3 micrograms per cubic metre) and over 20% of the population live in regions with air pollution levels at more than twice this standard. Nearly every Indian (99.5% of the population) lives in an area with PM2.5 pollution above WHO’s guidelines.

The study finds that Indian cities, with an average PM2.5 concentration of 46.0 μg/m3, are far more polluted than those in Europe (21.7 μg/m3) or the US (9.6 μg/m3), and polluted even in comparison to China, where cities average 40.4 μg/m3. A number of Indian cities have very high fine particulate levels – above 75 μg/m3.

Moreover, Indian national air quality standards are far less stringent than in other countries. “At the current prescription of 40 μg/m3 for annual PM2.5, the Indian standard is four times the WHO guideline and is the least stringent of the four regions,” states the study.

“The loss of more than two billion life years is a substantial price to pay for air pollution. And yet this may still be an underestimate of the costs of air pollution, because we do not account for the impact of other air pollutants, the impacts of particulates on morbidity or labour productivity, as well as preventive health or avoidance costs borne by Indian households,” the study states.

Greenstone says that past studies have shown that environmental improvements in developing countries can lead to longer and healthier lives, which are critical ingredients for economic growth.

In a study released in 2013, Greenstone found that people who live in northern China are set to lose a total of 2.5 billion years of life expectancy compared to those living in the south, due to the extensive use of coal in power boilers for heating north of the Huai River.

“The Government of India has a tremendous opportunity to improve the health of its citizens by reducing air pollution,” Greenstone said. “And we now know that this is feasible because environmental regulations have been shown to work in India when the public demands them. We can also draw from these results that no matter what climate deals are worked out internationally, India seems unlikely to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions unless its people consider climate change an urgent issue and strongly call for action.”

US embassy monitors air

On February 18, the US launched a joint air quality programme at select diplomatic missions, including New Delhi. Since real-time air quality data are unavailable in many areas, the State Department and EPA’s collaboration will provide data from these missions to EPA’s AirNow platform. “It also will enhance the availability of ambient air quality data and expertise around the world, offering a greater opportunity for the United States to create partnerships on air quality with other nations,” says the Department of State.

During US President Obama’s visit to India in January, one of the agreements reached was to implement EPA’s AIR Now-International programme and megacities partnerships, focused on disseminating information to help urban dwellers to reduce their exposure to harmful levels of air pollution, and enable urban policy planners to implement corrective strategies to improve air quality. However, any progress in the initiative is yet to be seen.

Agenda to fight air pollution

Recently the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) presented an agenda for action to fight air pollution in India’s capital. The agenda was aimed at the Aam Aadmi Party, which was elected to power in Delhi a few weeks ago.

In February 2015, CSE monitored air pollution levels in buses, autos, the metro, and while walking – mainly to assess the level of pollution that average citizens are exposed to on a daily basis while travelling in the city. The CSE analysis showed that SPM exposure in all transport modes is very high. The average levels recorded are 2-4 times higher than the background levels reported by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee.

The CSE study showed pollution levels increase when traffic is stationary at junctions and in traffic jams. In a traffic jam on a stretch close to Paharganj in central Delhi, levels peaked at 1,170 μg/m3.

CSE asked Delhi’s new Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to implement pollution emergency measures, improve vehicle emissions standards , tax diesel use and improve public transport, especially last mile connectivity.


India releases air quality data but no plan to tackle smog

Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar launched India’s first national air quality index this week to monitor pollution levels in a country which has the world’s most toxic air.

The air quality index from the Central Pollution Control Board explains in layman’s terms the effect that breathing the air in 10 cities could have on a person’s health.

The central and state pollution control boards already monitor air quality in 240 cities across the country, but the data generated is voluminous and difficult for ordinary people to understand.

“It was important that information on air quality is put up in public domain in simple linguistic terms that is easily understood by a common person,” said Javadekar.

The index translates detailed information on eight different pollutants into a colour-coded warning system (including PM2.5 the smallest most dangerous particulate matter). Previously systems only recorded three pollutants.

The index, overseen by the environment ministry, calculates the average pollution for a day, which the government says is a better way to judge air quality.

Technical glitches

Environmentalists have welcomed the new air quality index, however there are concerns about the accuracy of data.

It is vital to ensure monitoring stations produce good quality data and are properly maintained, warned Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of transport and air quality at the Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

So far, India’s collection of pollution data has been haphazard and compares poorly with China.

Days after launching, the system ran into technical problems. As of April 10, the AQI website readings from three of the five stations in Delhi showed “Insufficient Data for computing AQI”. And in some cases, data was missing for periods of time. Stations also only showed recordings for five out of the eight pollutants.

Functioning stations in Delhi this week showed an average air quality of “moderate” which means “breathing discomfort” to people with asthma as well as those with diseases of the heart and lungs. But in some places the levels of PM2.5 hit 12 times the World Health Organisation’s safe limit.

Elsewhere in India, stations in Chennai showed alarming levels of PM2.5 and the holy city of Varanasi on the banks of the Ganga River recorded an AQI as high as 252 or “poor” , which means “breathing discomfort to most people on prolonged exposure” and is far higher even than pollution levels in Delhi.

Action on smog needed

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has called on the government to take immediate action to reduce smog.

India has joined the global league of countries like the US, China, Mexico, France and Hong Kong that have implemented smog alert systems. However, other countries also implement emergency measures to bring down the peak pollution levels, CSE has pointed out.

Air quality warning systems in Beijing have helped build public awareness about the health impacts and put pressure on the government to take action (though there are still big concerns about data rigging).

Beijing has also come up with a pollution contingency plan. On red alert days, schools are closed, car-use is restricted, polluting factories have to cut emissions and barbecues and fireworks are banned. US and European cities have similar systems.

Greenpeace India has also voiced concerns about the lack of action to curb existing pollution levels in Delhi and to safeguard the health of the public. A recent Greenpeace survey revealed school children are consistently exposed to unacceptable levels of pollution.

“Delhi is facing a public health emergency and an Air Quality Index needs to be matched with actionable plans on how to bring the pollution levels down, at the very least with a health advisory,” said Aishwarya Madineni a Greenpeace campaigner.

“This [AQI] is merely band aid on a wound that needs stitches, the bleeding is going to continue,” she said.

Fresh ban on old diesel cars

Delhi has taken recently taken measures to control pollution from vehicles, a major culprit behind the city’s toxic air. Within days of a National Green Tribunal (NGT) ruling banning diesel-run vehicles over 10 years old in Delhi and the neighbouring states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, the Delhi police had rounded up 100 vehicles.

Chairperson of the green tribunal, Justice Swatanter Kumar, noted that diesel is prime source of air pollution in Delhi and the situation has become so alarming that people are being advised to leave Delhi due to adverse effects on health.

Last November, the Tribunal passed a ruling to ban all vehicles over 15 years old. However, the ban was not implemented by the states.

Delhi authorities need to enforce tighter emissions standards for vehicles and fuel taxes, argued Vivek Chhattopadhyay from the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). About 45% of cars in Delhi are diesel run and pollution from one diesel car is equal to about seven petrol cars, he said.

The new order is expected to cover around 1.19 million private diesel cars and about 35,000 commercial vehicles (these were registered before Delhi made clean natural gas compulsory for commercial vehicles). The ban will also restrict the entry of about 10,000 cars registered in Noida and Ghaziabad into Delhi.

Vishnu Mathur, director general of Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), argued the ban should been implemented nationwide since old vehicles will simply be resold and continue to pollute elsewhere.

Other countries have taken strong steps to phase out old vehicles. In 2014, about 7 million vehicles were banned from the road in China because they failed to meet emissions standards, though cities are still struggling to curb car fumes.


Okhla waste to energy plant put on notice for excess emissions


The Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) has issued show cause notice to the waste to energy plant in Okhla in south Delhi, managed by Jindal Urban Infrastructure Limited, for excessive ash fall and also for violating the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act. The plant has been shut down for now since its boiler is not working.

A team of scientists from DPCC and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) had visited the plant and its neighbourhood for spot inspection on Friday and found that the emissions from the plant were above normal. It has given the plant managers 15 days to file reply.

The plant has been at the centre of a controversy ever since it was opened. Residents of nearby colonies, including those in Sukhdev Vihar, environmental organisations and waste pickers have been demanding its closure ever since its construction began. Sukhdev Vihar Residents Welfare Association is fighting a case in the National Green Tribunal (NGT). Even during earlier inspections by teams formed by NGT, it was found that emissions from the plant were toxic. The next date of hearing in NGT is on January 15.

Resident welfare organisations along with non-profit ToxicsWatchAlliance (TWA) had submitted a letter to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal at the Janata Durbar on Saturday, informing him about toxic ash that fall on roofs of the houses in the locality. They also submitted photographs.

The letter alleged that Jairam Ramesh, during his tenure as Union minister of state of environment and forests, had written to Sheila Dikshit, former chief minister, highlighting the violation of environmental regulations by the Okhla plant operators but she chose to ignore the letter. It also demanded an inquiry into the circumstances under which this plant was given clearance, alleging it was based “on fake public hearing and misleading facts presented in the plant’s Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report”.

Sandeep Mishra, member secretary of DPCC, confirmed that the show cause notice was issued to the plant on Friday after the inspection and its copies were sent to South Delhi Municipal Corporation.

Asha Arora, member of the Sukhdev Vihar Residents Welfare Association, said that it is a relief that the DPCC has taken some action after so many years of protests by the residents of Okhla. However, a permanent measure is needed. She said that the association have received an acknowledgement letter from CM’s office.


Chemical unit forces people out of their homes

KOLKATA, 3 NOV: Pungent smell and loud noise from a chemical factory in Lake Town have not only forced several people in the area to leave their homes, but according to the locals, have also been taking a toll on the health of the people in the surrounding areas. Strangely, it took three years for the West Bengal Pollution Control Board to take any stringent action against the unit.
The West Bengal Chemical Industries Limited at 145/1 Jessore Road is situated in a thickly-populated area of Lake Town. Several houses and residential complexes surround the unit. Foul smell emanating from the unit has made lives of locals miserable. Not only this, the chimneys emit black fumes because of which the houses facing the unit have to keep their windows shut throughout the day. Several people have left their houses and people who are still living have to put up with the situation as the officials of the unit, despite several requests from the locals, have continued with their operation.
“My wife is a cancer patient and has to live on oxygen. She also suffers from breathlessness. Each day her health keeps deteriorating. Neither can we open the window nor can we switch the air-conditioner,” said Mr Arya, whose apartment faces the chemical unit.
Mr Shekhar Roy, a resident of Block A, said that several people in area suffer from lung problems. When they went to ask the officials of the unit about the product it manufactures, they refused to tell them. “Though we do not have medical reports that prove that the fumes from the unit are the reason behind it, it is a known fact that most of the cases were lung cancer,” he said. The unit also stores tanks full of furnace oil near the residential area posing a fire hazard.
The residents of the area with the help of an organisation called Peoples’ Green Society, had submitted a mass petition at the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB) in 2006 complaining about the air and noise pollution caused by the unit, following which the WBPCB sent a team to inspect the factory.
In 2009, a public hearing was held at the board in which a set of recommendations were issued and the vice-president of the unit was instructed to submit an action plan in line with the recommendations within two months.
The unit continues to discharge untreated waste-water and the foul smell has forced residents out of their homes. On 16 August 2010, another petition was submitted with the Pollution Control Board. Mr Biswajit Mukherjee, chief law officer of the WBPCB, said: “An order against them has been issued. We will be calling the unit owners for a hearing soon.” The general manager of the company refused to talk.

Soma Basu

All that looks green may not be green

KOLKATA, 13 SEPT: While the Public Vehicles Department and the state transport department continue haggling over the numbers of two-stroke autos scrapped in almost two years after the Calcutta High Court verdict, old but repainted autos continue to rule the roads in city and suburbs.
Mr Sumantra Chowdhury, state transport secretary, said that till August 2010, more than 17,000 two-stroke autos have been scrapped. About 20,000 registered autos were phased out after Calcutta High Court banned two-stroke autos from plying in the Kolkata Municipal Area. “More are in the process of releasing subsidy,” he added.
However, Mr Ujjal Sengupta, PVD secretary, said that a total of 6,500 LPG-run autos are now running, which means that an equal number of two-stroke autos have been scrapped.
“Several applications had mistakes and so many autos could not be replaced,” he said.
Such discrepancies in the numbers quoted by the transport department and the public vehicles department and a visit to one of the auto scrap yards in Entally proves that no one can be sure exactly how many autos have actually been scrapped. There is also the possibility that such autos are still plying on the city roads and the suburbs.
Mr Dipak Chakraborty, chief scientist, West Bengal Pollution Control Board, said: “All that appears green is hardly so. Our calculations show that after such vehicles are phased out, the reduction in air-pollution should have been much more than it is now.” If the pollution level remains the way it is then the motive behind the HC order has completely been ignored,” he added.
When asked that many “newly painted” autos seen in the city are two-stroke, Mr Ujjal Sengupta said that the Regional Transport Offices have the responsibility of inspecting such autos in their area. “No such case has been found in the city. However, such autos are seen plying in Jadavpur and Behala region. It is not in our jurisdiction,” he added. When asked the same question, Mr Sumantra Chowdhury said: “Such autos could be seen in the suburbs. Our concern is only to check them if they run in the city.”
Mr Subhas Dutta, environmental activist, said that the state departments are completely oblivious of the situation and it is a very sorry state of affair. Between what transport department and PVD claims, several autos are flouting the norms. “The scrap is back on the roads again and the city has become a gas chamber. It is a total miscarriage of justice,” he added.

Soma Basu

Clean air? Not in suburbia

KOLKATA, 26 JULY: Air quality in the outskirts seems to be deteriorating rapidly.
The air pollution level in the city and the outskirts were found to be equal in some parameters considered while monitoring the ambient air quality by the state pollution control board while in others, the level of pollution in the outskirts were found to be exceeding the city.
Even though the vehicular traffic in the outskirts is less, most of the old commercial vehicles that were phased out of the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Area (KMDA) zone after a Calcutta High Court order were found plying in the suburbs. The high court banned 15-year-old commercial vehicles, as they didn’t have the requisite devices to check pollution. However, most of these vehicles rule the roads near Baguiati, Hatiara, Garia, Baruipur, Amtala, Khardah, Barrackpore and Dum Dum.
“The vehicular pollution is not the only factor that leads to the rise in pollution level in the suburbs. The industries are also responsible for worsening the air quality,” said Debanjan Gupta, scientist, West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB). He said that the re-suspension of dust also heightens the pollution level. While the permissible limit for Respirable Particulate Matter (RPM) is 50 µg/m3, it was found to be as high as 112 µg/m3 in the suburbs. The city, however, recorded 88.8 µg/m3. The permissible limit of RPM for residential area is 60 µg/m3, while in industrial areas, it is 120 µg/m3. Mr Gupta also said that the weather conditions also play a pivotal role in determining these values.
Mr Dipak Chakraborty, chief scientist, WBPCB, said that after the old vehicles were phased out, the pollution in the city did not go down. Benzene, a hazardous air pollutant that causes cancer and a component in automobile oil, has successfully been reduced. “The air quality graph is static right now. This means that the pollution is neither increasing nor decreasing. But with the rise in number of vehicles in the city, it may rise again in the future,” he said. He also said that in the after monitoring some places in the districts, it was found that the air pollution level is increasing menacingly.
Most of the public vehicles plying on the outskirts are ones that had been banned in the city. Lack of testing centres in the districts has given a free hand to the autos that use adulterated oil. “Engine vans” plying in the districts are also highly polluting.
Mr Debabrata Das, superintendent of the Durgapur Sub-divisional Hospital, said there has been an increase in number of patients that come to the hospital with problems such as asthma and bronchitis. “Pollution is one of the major factor leading to this rise in number of patients complaining about respiratory distress,” he said.

Soma Basu

Lost without a trace…

KOLKATA, 4 JUNE: Neither the forest department headquarters nor the wildlife wing of state forest directorate or the state bio-diversity board has any record of species of flora and fauna lost in the last 100 years due to urbanisation in the state.
The additional principal chief conservator of forests, wasteland development corporation, Mr Rakesh Sinha, had no clue about the species that have gone extinct due to setting up of satellite townships like Salt Lake, New Town and Nabadiganta. He said that the records are with the wildlife wing, state forest directorate.
When this correspondent asked Mr SB Mondal, chief wildlife warden, he said that there is no data on the loss of bio-diversity in the state leave alone the city. However, he said that Rhinoceros population in the state has increases 12 times in 26 years, number of Bison has increased 10 times in 21 years and elephant population has jumped 3 times in 20 years. Mr Anirban Roy, research officer, West Bengal Biodiverity Board, said that although they know that many species have been lost due to urbanization, they have no record of it. On being asked about Marsh Mongoose, a threatened species endemic to East Kolkata Wetlands, Mr Roy said that every year many species are lost due to various reasons and they have recently taken up the work to maintain a register record of such species so that they can be preserved.

Poisoned Air
Though Calcutta High Court’s ban on 15-year-old vehicles in the city has slowed the rate of air deterioration, scientists say that the city has reached its limit and any more increase in the number of vehicles can pose serious environmental hazards. It should be noted that the city has highest number of people suffering from lung cancer in the country and is closely followed by New Delhi. Dr Dipak Chakraborty, chief scientist, West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB), said that there has not been any study to relate mortality with air pollution but the city air had a major role to play when it come to cardiovascular or respiratory problems. Though efforts to remove sulphur, lead and benzene from automobile fuel has been successful, aromatics compounds from fuel has still not been phased out. Although many new vehicles can be seen plying on the road, their maintenance is low and after sometime they too are seen emitting smoke.
Dr Chakraborty said that the respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM) graph has steadied after the imposition of the ban but it could be the lull before the storm as number of vehicles in the city is increasing at a very fast rate.

Noise pollution
Though city dwellers are quite aware of noise pollution nowadays and never hesitate to lodge complaints with police, loudspeakers blaring out political speeches and slogans invading every household near roads and alleys are often ignored. Officials of the State Pollution Control Board said that though there were a couple of complaints lodged during the parliamentary elections last year, people chose to ignore noise pollution during the civic polls this year. “What is the use of complaining? One of these people who are on the other side of the loudspeaker will be our councillor in the time to come, “ said Nirupa Ghosh, a resident of Ward No 9 in Salt Lake. The pollution control board has studied noise pollution caused by vehicles, during festivals like Diwali and Durga puja, and industries. But they have kept away from pollution caused during political rallies and campaigns. Dr Debasish Chakraborty, scientist, West Bengal Pollution Control Board, said that in the last one year, 44 per cent of mass complaints were registered while 56 per cent complaints were registered by individuals. The complaint number for noise pollution is 033-23358212 but only during festivals.

Global warming
Global Warming is the reason why the city has to put up with unbearable heat in summers, chilly winters and delayed monsoons. According to scientists, 2008, 2009 and 2010 saw fall in solar minima when the temperature was expected to be comparatively low but still the mercury soared during summers which explains that the abnormal warming was due to Carbon-di-oxide.
“It is the period when there is minimum solar flares but still year 2009 was recorded to be the warmest year. Year 2010 has recorded highest temperature in 135 years. The year started with such high temperatures when compared with 1998 and 2005, that it is expected to set new records,” said Dr Sugata Hazra, director of the Jadavpur University’s School of Oceanographic Studies. Global warming has effected the whole climactic circle and this is the reason why monsoons were delayed last year. However, this year it is expected to arrive on time, Dr Hazra said. Dr Hazra also said that abnormal rise in temperature of Bay of Bengal is observed. The Bay of Bengal is warming up at the rate of 0.45 per cent every decade which is quite higher than the 0.2 per cent rate of global warming. “This is why we see such disturbances in the ocean nowadays,” he added.
City students feel that the compulsory subject, Environment Science, in under-graduation courses has done little to create awareness and inform students about environmental hazards. Priyanka Roy, a first-year student of Humanities, said: “We only study environment science before examination. It has almost no effect on students who have become addicted to air-conditioners and electronic gadgets.”
Suparna Saha, a third-year student of Humanities, said that though she does not know what exactly Climate Change is all about, she knows that earth is being exploited to its limit and use of renewable sources of energy should be promoted. Another student, Sudip Gupta, said that people do not use environment-friendly products because they are less attractive and more expensive.
Second year students of Zoology, Arindam Roy and Dibyadeep Chatterjee, said that the biggest problem the city is facing is automobile pollution and water pollution. Dibyadeep also complained about the drainage problem in the city. Arindam said that government phased out old vehicles but most of the dilapidated buses belong to the state government.

Soma Basu