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Air pollution: Agenda for AAP Sarkar

Air pollution: Agenda for AAP Sarkar
Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment, on Friday released agenda for action to fight air pollution and protect the health of “Aam Aadmi” in Delhi. The agenda is accompanied by the results of a CSE study that shows that the number of days recording levels classified as “severe” in the official air quality index went up to 65 per cent in December.

Releasing the results of the analysis at a press conference on Friday, CSE director general Sunita Narain said, “As the overall air quality of Delhi worsens, our exposure to toxic air increases several-fold. The winter season is drawing to a close – but we must understand that Delhi cannot afford to face another severely polluted winter such as this one. The new Aam Aadmi Party government has taken on the reigns in Delhi; we expect it to now lay down its priorities and control air pollution and protect public health in the city.”

The study and its results
In February 2015, CSE monitored air pollution levels in buses, autos, the metro, and while walking— mainly to assess the amount of pollution that average citizens are exposed to on a daily basis while travelling in the city. Anumita Roychowdhury, CSE’s executive director-research and advocacy and head of its Right to Clean Air campaign, added, “This helped us understand how much pollution people breathe on a daily basis in Delhi, while travelling. Our data is quite shocking – we have found that daily personal exposure to toxic air is significantly higher than the background ambient air pollution that is monitored by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC). This is a serious risk to public health.”

The dust track aerosol monitor used by CSE measures both mass and size fraction of particulate matter. A real time monitoring was carried out in different modes of mass transportation during morning and evening traffic peak hours in the first two weeks of February. Their average exposure was compared with the background ambient levels monitored by the DPCC at the nearest official monitoring station.

“It is ironical that our public transport users, the majority in the city, who are part of the solution to the dangerous air pollution problem, themselves are vulnerable and victims of this highly toxic risk. This risk can be reduced only if a stringent clean air action plan is implemented in a time-bound manner,” says Roychowdhury.

Delhi cannot face another winter as severely polluted as this…

CSE applied the National Air Quality Index announced by the Ministry of Environment and Forests to the PM2.5 levels this winter – October 2014-February 2015. The results showed that the number of days with severe levels has remained consistently high all through. In December, 65 per cent of the days were in severe category; in January, it was about 47 per cent. There were at least 12 smog episodes this winter.

This, according to the non-profit, is a critical situation -- in other countries, if cities are afflicted in a similar manner, immediate steps are taken to reduce car numbers, shut industrial units, and close down schools.

So what should the new AAP government focus on?
The NGO has also released a priority action plan for smog episodes, and short- and medium-term measures for more lasting and durable change to meet clean air standards in a time-bound manner. A few highlights:

1) Implement the Air Quality Index with health advisories and pollution emergency measures
2) Leapfrog emissions standards to Euro V in 2017, and Euro VI in 2020. Nation-wide Euro IV should be in place by 2015
3) Control dieselisation with tax measures. Diesel has been branded as class I carcinogen by WHO. Need fiscal measures to keep clean fuels like CNG competitive vis-a-vis diesel Improve and scale up public transport and last mile connectivity: Bring all the 11,000 buses within a year. Ensure reliable and frequent services, GPS enabled public information system; multi-modal integration for metro and bus and last mile connectivity. Delhi needs to meet the target of 11,000 buses. DTC presently has 4879 buses Restrain growth of cars with parking restraints and taxes: Eliminate free parking.

Introduce effectively high and variable parking charges; introduce residential parking permits with fees. Need stringent measures for on-road and older vehicles:  Smoky vehicle inspection based on spot check and on-road surveillance, high penalty and instant removal from road can make a difference inside the city as well as along the borders. Imposing higher taxes on older vehicles of Euro I and Euro II vintage is a must.

Result of CSE analysis
1) Exposure in all transport modes is very high: The average levels recorded are 2-4 times higher than the background levels reported by DPCC

2) Open modes like autorickshaws, walking and cycling have the highest exposure

3) During off-peak hours, all modes show lower levels: Difference between peak and off-peak was as follows -- autos 1.3 times higher; walking 1.5 times higher; and buses 2.5 times higher

4) Underground metro with sealed environment shows lower levels of about 209 microgramme per cubic metre. The overhead metro had levels of 330 microgramme per cu m

5) Pollution levels peak near junctions and in traffic jams: Pollution levels increase when traffic is stationary at junctions and in traffic jams. In a traffic jam on a stretch close to Paharganj, levels peaked at 1,170 microgramme per cu m. At a traffic jam near Govindpuri Metro Station, the peak level was 725 microgramme per cu m

6) Proximity to diesel trucks lead to extremely high exposure: A cycle rickshaw ride on NH 24 in close proximity to truck traffic recorded a range of 651 to 2,000 microgramme per cu m.

7) Cars do not help. Monitoring inside the car was carried out during off-peak hours -- the average levels were found to be double the ambient level

8) The traffic police is breathing unacceptably high levels: Monitoring carried out at the ITO crossing showed peak exposure at 8 times the ambient level. DOWN TO EARTH
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