Narada News Exclusive: Indian cities become gas chambers as Diwali approaches
Indian cities have become gas chambers with air quality reaching toxic levels during the Diwali festival
Air quality experts warn that Delhi’s air pollution levels are twice as worse as Beijing’s levels which are saying a great deal because, for almost one decade, Beijing enjoyed the dubious distinction of being the worst polluted city in the world.
While Beijing's particulate matter or PM 2.5 levels is at 130 micrograms per cubic meter, Delhi’s PM 2.5 levels were at 300 micrograms per cubic meter this Tuesday. These tiny particles penetrate the lungs and cause a slew of respiratory diseases including lung cancer.
Officials at Delhi’s System of Air quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) blame the Diwali rush on the roads for these rising pollution levels. The other reason for deteriorating air quality is that farmers from the neighboring states of Punjab, Haryana and UP continue to burn the stubble of the paddy crop. This stubble is the dry straw that is left standing behind in the fields after the paddy and other crops have been harvested.
IIT Kanpur in a study has stated that stubble burning is the third highest contributor to air pollution after construction dust and vehicular fumes. Chairperson Bhure Lal, heading the Environmental Pollution ( Prevention and Control)Authority said in a press conference that he had held a meeting with his counterparts in Punjab and Haryana to discuss this whole issue of stubble burning.
` We have asked the governments of Punjab and Haryana to give Rs 100 per month to farmers to purchase no-till machines that will discourage farmers from burning this stubble,’ said Bhure Lal.
The problem of stubble burning is complex because a number of scientists in Punjab and Haryana are not willing to accept that stubble burning is responsible for increasing pollution levels in the NCR.
Officials in the Punjab Pollution Control Board point out that while smog engulfs Delhi, how come the air quality levels in Karnal and Panipat remain the same? If that was indeed the case pollution levels would have risen in these cities which are not the case they add.
Bhure Lal does not agree with these observations insisting that crop burning is playing an aggravating role harming residents of the capital and also of those living in Punjab and Haryana.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has set up an inter-ministerial task force to look into this whole issue and has asked all the stakeholders including the pollution board and the environment department to come up with a detailed plan on how to handle this burgeoning issue.
As a first step, the Public Works Department actually vacuumed and washed a five-metre stretch on Mathura road last week. The result was that PM 2.5 levels came down to 200 micrograms per cubic meter whereas the week prior to that the levels there were between 300 and 350 micrograms.
The WHO health ratings for a city is that PM 2.5 levels should not exceed 25. Forty cities in India exceed this level with many of these being Two Tier and Three Tier cities. Patna, Gwalior, Raipur, Ahmedabad, Firozabad, Amritsar, Kanpur, Agra and Ludhiana are but a few of the cities whose PM 2.5 levels now hover over 150.
A 2008 study by the Central Pollution Control Board found that two-fifths of Deli’s schoolchildren had reduced lung function and this damage was likely to be irreversible. The Centre of Science and Environment director Sunita Narain has warned that air pollution-related diseases are causing more than 3000 premature deaths per year. While cities like Beijing and Shanghai actually shut down their cities to protect their residents when air pollution levels go up this is not likely to happen in Indian cities where the situation is only expected to get worse.