Air pollution a silent killer
The National Green Tribunal needs to deliver a Noida type order — banning new industries till air quality improves — for almost every emerging city in India or else, they would be new premature death zones.
Deteriorating air quality has been rising concern for citizens in emerging 10 million plus cities but little has local governments done to improve the air quality. What is worse that India has not enhanced its capabilities to monitor new pollutants such as ozone, mercury and benzene in air. And, therefore, we don’t even know how bad is the air we breathe.
An alarm bell was rung by a recent study by Yale University which ranked air quality in India among the worst in the world. It also said that the rate at which air quality is falling in our country was fastest among all developing countries. Pollution watchdog the Central Pollution Control Board has confirmed the findings.
Another study by OECD said there would be 3.6 million premature deaths in the coming decades in China and India because of poor air quality. The study is the new environmental outlook until 2050. Recent NASA pictures showed heavy cloud of aerosol over most of India, especially the Himalayan region.
These are more than enough indicators for policy-makers to act, who have been turned a blind eye towards the silent epidemic primarily as they consider norms to improve air quality can hamper India’s economic growth.
It would be noteworthy to mention here that we don’t have a road-map for introduction of cleaner fuels. The last one — called Auto Fuel Policy — enforced after a Supreme Court ruling lapsed in 2010. For the last two years there has been a talk on new auto fuel policy but no action.
India has also been dithering with its fuel economy norms for more than five years. An inept draft notification on fuel economy norms were issued on last November but the final draft is still awaited. If the government sources are to be believed it has been held back due to pressure from powerful automakers lobby.
The government has budged to demands of vehicle manufacturers as they are considered fuelling country’s manufacturing growth, which witnessed a downward trend on account of global economic slowdown since 2011.
The Centre for Science and Environment termed the draft fuel economy norms as unacceptable as they allow the car makers to pollute. Anumita Roychowdhury, CSE’s executive director-research and head of its air pollution and urban mobility team: “Our review exposes some unacceptable follies and raises serious questions about the intent of the standards.”
CSE researchers pointed out that all international regulations take care to mention the actual limit value or standard in the regulatory document. For instance, the regulatory document of the European Commission states “This regulation sets the average CO2 emissions for new passenger cars at 130 gCO2/km…..” The Indian government has chosen to remain silent on the real target value.
According to Roychowdhury, it is shocking that Indian targets are far worse than the natural rate of improvement achieved by the car industry.
With the government favouring the vehicles — the biggest source for air pollution — than its citizens, the health future of Indians appears to be bleak.
This week’s order of the National Green Tribunal for banning new industries and expansion of existing ones in Noida provides a rare hope of better tomorrow. But for that, the NGT will have to come out with similar orders for other cities forcing the governments to act. Or else, we are doomed.