GS Paper 3
Program: Environmental conservation, pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
The context: Pollution of Delhi: From the end of October, meteorological factors and the burning of “stubble” are added to the already high pollution base in the Indo-Gangetic basin, in particular pollution due to fine particles (PM), to mist and smoke.
Particulate matter (PM) consists of solid particles and liquid droplets in the air. Any type of combustion activity or dust generation is a source of PM, for example, emissions (from vehicles and chimneys of industrial facilities)
Special case-PM2.5 (diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less) and PM10— far exceeds national and World Health Organization limits and is believed to be the main culprit for the heavy pollution of Delhi and its surrounding areas known as NCR.
Reasons why Delhi NCR region faces extreme particulate pollution:
- Location of Delhi: It lies northeast of the Thar Desert, northwest of the Central Plains and southwest of the Himalayas. When the winds arrive from the coasts, bringing with them pollutants picked up along the way, they are “trapped” just before the Himalayas.
- cold temperature during the winter: During the summer, warmer air rises higher above the surface and carries pollutants with it. However, in October-November the air is not so hot. Pollutants are trapped and tend to concentrate at lower levels of the atmosphere, resulting in a smoke and haze situation.
- Lack of wind esp. after the end of the monsoon: The average winter wind speed in the Delhi NCR region is one third of the summer months. This makes the concentration of pollutants in the area.
- Dust storm: -According SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research), 40% of the particulate pollution in Delhi on those days could come from a “multi-day dust storm” that originated in the Middle East.
- stubble burning: The root cause of stubble burning dates back to the 1960s-70s, when India introduced several measures as part of its green revolution to feed its growing population.
- Government policy:In an attempt to address the growing water crisis, the governments of Punjab and Haryana introduced laws which delayed the cultivation of Kharif and thus aggravated pollution from stubble burning.
- Manufacturing, power generation, construction and transportation: The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) have said that vehicle emissions are one of the main contributors to the increase in air pollution in Delhi.
- Minimum citizen participation: Unlike other parts of the world, there are few citizen movements to fight against pollution.
- Bad regulation: Regulation is most often seen as imposing bans, not as a stranglehold and as persuading industry – mostly small factories – to adopt environmentally friendly measures
- India has not recognized in politics and the law that air pollution is a killer.
- On Adult: The Lancet report that said 12.5% of India’s deaths were due to air pollution
- On children: More than 116,000 infants in India died within a month of their birth in 2019 due to air pollution – both outdoor and indoor – according to the State of Global Air 2020 report.
- On the mother: Studies say that due to the pregnant mother’s exposure to very high levels of pollution, actually affects the placenta and fetus.
- On education: Hours lost due to school closures. For example, severe air pollution in Delhi led to the closure of the primary school.
- In economy: Closure of industries/factories. Limits on construction activity, etc.
Measures taken by the government
- Graduated Response Action Plan (GRAP): Pursuant to the Supreme Court’s order on C. Mehta vs Union of India (2016)regarding the air quality in the National Capital Region of Delhi, a graduated response action plan has been prepared to be implemented in different Air Quality Index (AQI) categories, namely moderate and mediocre, very mediocre and serious.
- National Air Quality Program (NCAP)- It aims to reduce the concentration of coarse (PM10) and fine particles (PM2.5) in the atmosphere by at least 20% by 2024, with 2017 as the reference year for comparison.
- To mitigate stubble burning: a series of short-term ex-situ and in-situ solutionshave been deployed by Union and State governments.
- On-site solutionsinclude Turbo happy seeders and bio-decomposers, while ex-situ solutions include the collection and use of thatch as fuel in boilers, to produce ethanol, or simply burning alongside coal in thermal power plants.
- Other measuresvehicle pollution control teams, public awareness campaigns, investments in mass rapid transit systems and the phasing out of old commercial vehicles.
- Delhi’s ‘Green War Room’ reporting the fight against smog, analyzes satellite data on farm fires in Punjab and Haryana to identify and treat the culprits.
- Cleaner transportation: The government’s recent push for electric vehicles is promising, while industry response and customer buy-in will be key.
- Best Farming Practices-The political will to act is needed, as poor farmers complain that they receive no financial support to properly dispose of post-harvest stubble.
- The Indian Institute of Agricultural Research came up with an inexpensive way to deal with the problem of stubble burning by spraying a chemical solution to break down crop residues and turn them into manure. Better coordination is needed
In the face of environmental growth and health calamity, pollution control efforts are being strengthened. But to succeed, different levels of government must harness the political will to invest more, coordinate across borders, and motivate businesses and residents to do their part.
Q. How is air pollution measured and tracked in India? What are the recent changes introduced in the measurement of air pollution? (15M)