Taking the air pollution fight to the hinterlands

Nagpur: Between 2011 and 2016, Nagpur witnessed 50% rise in the consumption of petrol. The number of diesel vehicles from 2011-17 increased by 40% while petrol ones saw a rise by 10%, indicating that vehicular emissions are a significant contributor to the worsening air quality in city.
The data was presented by Sunil Dahiya, clean air campaigner at Greenpeace India, during the first-of-its-kind workshop held in the city on Saturday. Organized by Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), and Srushti Paryavaran Mandal, the daylong seminar felt the urgent need to address air pollution as “a problem beyond Delhi”. Attended by environment activists from Nagpur, including members of Green Vigil Foundation, Sudhir Paliwal, director of state government’s flyash management company Mahagams, as well as experts from other cities, it saw debates on several ticklish issues like credibility of government data, monitoring methods, and ground reality as against the data presented by several organizations.

The data shows diesel consumption went up by 26% in Nagpur between 2011 to 2016, 44% in Gondia, 43% in Gadchiroli, 34% in Yavatmal and 26% in Akola. With a 52% rise, Washim witnessed the highest increase in use of diesel in the region.

Highlighting pollution caused by automobile sector, former assistant director of Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute Dr Manas Ranjan Ray said diesel is the most polluting agent followed by petrol and Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). “Apart from vehicles, major sources for outdoor air pollution include industrial emissions, mining, construction, road repair and waste burning,” said Ray.

Supporting the growing consensus that air pollution can’t be capital-centric, noted environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta underlined the inefficacious monitoring of ambient air carried out across the country. “Out of the 199 continuous air quality monitoring stations, 40 are in the National Capital Region, Delhi. Shockingly, there is not a single monitoring station in the entire North-East region, despite many areas being critically polluted there,” said Dutta.

Some experts also gave prominence to the “less-talked about” pollution sources. “Present housing patterns do not allow wind to blow inside the houses. Congested houses leave no scope for ventilation, which leads to build up of pollutants,” said Padma Rao, head of Air Pollution Control Division at the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (Neeri).

On other contributors of indoor air pollution, Dr Ray cited the latest data, which shows that 72% of Indian households are still using biomass fuel for cooking. “Biomass is the main culprit, it is more harmful than kerosene,” he said.

Burning of incense sticks has recently come out as a significant contributor to indoor air pollution. “Latest studies show that burning of an incense stick emits 45 milligrams of pollutants while burning of a cigarette emits 10 milligrams,” Ray added.

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