By K.R. Sudhaman


Keeping in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s commitment to carry forward his clean India campaign Swachh Bharat, the 2015-16 budget has stepped up allocation for this noble idea. But finance minister Arun Jaitley seems to have forgotten one important area in this regard while presenting his budget – that is measures to improving air quality in Indian cities, which is becoming worse with growing urbanization. Swatch Bharat campaign serves no purpose if measures to tackle poor air quality in cities does not become a major component of this clean India effort.


Air pollution is a silent killer and according to a WHO study 13 of the top 19 polluted cities are in India. The national capital region is the most air polluted city in the world and Beijing considered among one of the worst world capitals is only 13th in the list. This WHO study is an eye-opener. The people in India seem to have ignored this crucial aspect and it is unfortunate that no provision has been made in the budget to improving the air quality around cities.


There are simple and cheap solutions available but government appears to be unmindful of this gigantic problem. Experts fear that the reason for India with vast 1.2 billion population, not able to produce quality fast bowlers and top class athletes is because Indians have 30 per cent less stamina than people living elsewhere due to poor air quality. Children are born with inferior lung power due to very poor air quality in the country. This is not a genetic issue, nor is it a problem of nutrition but sadly not much is being done to tackle this major problem. The diesel vehicles is one of major cause and part of the diesel cess should be utilized to switch over to Euro Vl standards.

The efficiency of working population in urban cities in India, particularly in Delhi is less by 15 per cent because of air pollution. Reduced lung power causes frequent headache and drastically reduces concentration power. That apart, poor air quality cause nausea, irritation to eyes and various health problems. Living in Delhi is as bad as smoking 40 cigarettes a day. As the problem is not visible to naked eye, no one seems to be bothered.


There may not be acid rains so far in most parts of the country but studies suggest that first rains in India ARE becoming increasingly acidic, which is harmful to skin, crops, animals, buildings and so on. Industrialist Kamal Meattle, President of Parharper Business Centre, who purifies air with simple and easy to maintain plants including money plants at his six storied building in Nehru place had recently written letter to all the MLA aspirants during the Delhi assembly elections to highlight this problem. But it fell on deaf ears and no politician seems to be bothered. A lung patient himself, Meattle has overcome his ailment by improving air quality in his residence and office through these simple solutions.


Delhi has become unfit to live between Deepavali and Holi with high levels of particulate matter (PM) 2.5 in addition to presence of dust particles PM 10 and Ozone emission from diesel vehicles. Areas like Lodhi gardens, Chanakyapuri and green areas in Lutyen’s Delhi including Prime Minister’s residence is one of the worst. This is because pollutants particular Ozone from diesel vehicles settle down in cooler places.


The prescribed standard for PM 2.5 air quality index is 60 and PM10 is 100. But certain parts of Delhi has PM2.5 as high as 380 and the average is around 170, which is considered very high making it unliveable. In case of Kolkata the average is around 200. South Indian cities are comparatively better. Chennai is lowest at around 60, while Mumbai, Bengaluru and Pune, the index is around 100 and Hyderabad, around 85. These figures are released by central pollution control board, which have stations in various parts to measure harmful pollutants including PM 2.5, PM 10, Ozone, Benzene, Sulphur dioxide and Carbon monoxide. Beijing, which has PM 2.5 level of around 60, has come out with a five year plan to bring it down to permissible levels. Indian authorities still believe index of 60 is moderate.


To find resources for Swachh Bharat campaign Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposes to add one per cent extra in service tax in five-star bills and a few other services. It would be worthwhile for government to consider some small cess to fund clear air campaign. It is not late, finance minister Arun Jaitley can move necessary amendments during the passage of finance bill. Wearing masks could be an option, Indoor plants are another. Planting more trees particularly pipal trees, which has the capacity to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen even during night, can help in reducing outdoor pollution. Advance nations have started issuing advisory to its embassy staff and tourists about dangers of air pollution in Delhi and other Indian cities, particularly after U S President Barrack Obama’s recent visit.


There were reports to suggest that his short stay in Delhi has reduced his life by six hours due to pollution. The indoor air pollution is 10 times more than outdoor pollution in India. Swachh Bharat is more bothered about improving water quality and providing more toilets but least bothered tackle this silent killer, air pollution. One drinks only 2-3 litres of water a day yet very conscious of its quality but we take 23,000 breaths in a day and inhale 12,000 litres of air a day and yet not bothered as it is not visible. It is high time due attention is given to tackle this problem before it becomes too late. (IPA Service)

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