Delhi once again enjoys the dubious distinction of being among the most polluted cities in the world. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has highlighted that fine particulate matter levels (PM2.5) in the capital city were almost four times above the daily safe levels for the week extending from September 22 to 28, 2016. For long-term exposure, these 24-hour levels are nearly 11 times above the WHO health standards.
WHO has sent out a warning that prolonged exposure to poor air quality will adversely impact both healthy people as also have serious impacts on those suffering from respiratory, heart , cancer and other diseases. Neurological disorders have also shown an increase because of rising pollution levels.
Delhi’s air pollution levels are one –and-a-half times worse that Beijing which for almost a decade was considered the most polluted city in the world. India presently has eleven of the 20 most polluted cities in the world. These include Kanpur, Firozabad , Lucknow, Patna, Raipur, Ludhiana , and Gwalior.
In 2012, China reported one million deaths from PM2.5 and PM10 pollution. India, for that period, reported 621,138 deaths from both indoor and outdoor pollution. But with air pollution levels increasing dramatically in Indian cities, pollution deaths have shown a steady increase.
The forecast by the capital’s pollution bodies including the System of Air quality and Weather Forecasting and Research have warned that pollution levels in terms of PM 2.5 concentration for the coming week will remain `Very Poor ‘.
Every year the Delhi state government blames the neighbouring states of Haryana , Rajasthan, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh for adding to these high pollution levels because their farmers burn paddy stubble of harvested crops lying in their fields. To get around this problem, Delhi environment minister Imran Hussain has shot off a letter to the Minister of Environment Anil Madhav Dave and to the environment ministers of the neighbouring states to take firm steps in order to put an end to this ` burning of agricultural residue’.
While the burning of the paddy residue does pollute the capital air, there is little doubt that heavy fumes from diesel vehicles plying on the capital’s roads as also in all our over-congested cities are one the main causes for declining air quality.
The Capital has over 8.9 million registered vehicles and another 50,000 commercial vehicles enter the city’s borders each night. A two-year analysis, submitted by IIT Kanpur to the Delhi government has identified vehicular emissions as being one of the main causes of rising pollution. According to the report, pollution from vehicles grew from 64% to 72% between 1990 and 2000 which has further aggravated pollution levels.
Dr Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of the Centre for Science and Environment, maintains that vehicular emission remains one of the key sources of pollution throughout the country.
Roychowdhury pointed out, ` We are still using Euro 4 pollution norms or as we call them Bharat 4 in thirteen of our big cities. But Euro 4 has been discontinued in Europe since 2006. In all our smaller cities we are using Euro 3 or Bharat 3 norms which are more than a decade old.’
Elaborating on this, Roychowdhury said, “The rapid use of diesel has further triggered pollution. Diesel cars emit three times more nitrogen monoxide and nitrogen dioxide than petrol cars . Their particulate matter emission is also much higher. For example, the sulphur content in our diesel is much higher. In Europe, it is ten parts per million, in BS three it is 350 parts per million while in BS 4, it is 50 parts per million”.
Roychowdhury feels the government must take strong steps to phase out old vehicles, implement congestion fees and expand and integrate public transport in order to tackle air pollution.