Assam to Lead Way in Countering Air Pollution Countrywide

Thursday, 14 November 2019

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Assam to Lead Way in Countering Air Pollution Countrywide

Atiqul Habib | November 09, 2019 14:25 hrs

With forest cover of more than 40 per cent, which is more than the national average, Assam is not yet in the danger line like capital New Delhi when it comes to air pollution but if things go as planned Assam will lead the way in countering the menace countrywide.

Any MP who is not a minister is referred to as a private member. The Parliament’s key role is to debate and make laws. Both ministers and private members contribute to the lawmaking process. Bills introduced by ministers are referred to as government bills. They are backed by the government and reflect its legislative agenda. Private member’s bills are piloted by non-minister MPs. Their purpose is to draw the government’s attention to what individual MPs see as issues and gaps in the existing legal framework, which require legislative intervention.

Last time a private member’s Bill was passed by both Houses was in 1970. This was the Supreme Court (Enlargement of Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction) Bill, 1968. Fourteen private member’s Bills — five of which were introduced in Rajya Sabha — have become law so far.

So the road ahead will be tough for Gogoi to get it passed in both houses of Parliament.

While detailing his plans, Gogoi said, “Can you imagine that in 2019, the primary law governing the working of our agencies is the Air Act, 1981? The Environment Protection Act, which is the mother parent act, is from the 1980s. An act from the 1980s will not suffice in 2019.”

His statement came while addressing a gathering on the sidelines of the release of an analysis of life expectancy and air pollution in the Indo-Gangetic plain by the Energy Policy Institute, University of Chicago.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) ambient air quality database released in January 2019 highlighted that 14 out of 15 most polluted cities across the world are in India.

Although Assam is not in that list, it doesn’t means we are inhaling the best, which stands to be a frightening reminder of the lack of seriousness the country's political machinery is showing towards solving the issue.

In January 2019, the final National Clean Air Programme (NCAP ) was announced which acknowledges the widespread health emergency facing the country specific sectoral initiatives and offers tentative targets of 20 – 30% reduction of air pollution levels by 2024. However, the NCAP lacks legal backing, clear sectoral targets and budgets that will enable the state to implement the plan.

In a report, called “Airpocalypse-III” by Greenpeace India is an updated annual data for the year 2017 for cities/towns across the Assam (12 city) along with rest of India to find out the spread and intensity of the air pollution crisis. 2017 is also the NCAP base year for the pollution reduction targets of 20-30% across 102 cities by 2024.

As of January 20, 2019, India has 731 operating stations covering 312 cities/towns in 29 states and 6 union territories.

The Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change, on 10th January 2019, released the National Clean Air Programme with a target of reducing pollution levels by 20-30% in 102 non-attainment cities.

However, even if we assume that all the cities will aim for a 30% reduction of pollution levels by 2024, we will still be left with 152 cities/towns which will have PM10 levels above the NAAQS (2017 annual data) and thus qualify as non-attainment cities/towns.

Have you ever wondered how many cigarettes a day you've been passively smoking as you walk through the pollution infused streets of Guwahati?

Interestingly, an app, named "S***, I Smoke" developed by Marcelo Coelho and Amaury Martiny last year monitors data from air quality stations strewn across various locations in order to analyse the quality of air in a particular place and then deduces how many cigarettes you've been inadvertently smoking, just by breathing toxic, polluted urban air.

According to the app, as of 10:30 AM on Friday (November 8), anyone who spent a few minutes outdoors in Guwahati will have smoked 2.2 cigarettes passively; on a monthly basis this is a staggering 66.7 cigarettes.

The makers of the app based it on a study by professors at California University who used a mathematical model in order to calculate how many cigarettes one is smoking simply by inhaling particulate matter present in polluted air.

As one person wrote on Twitter for people who don't smoke or quit smoking since they're heading down the same road of lung diseases and respiratory problems as those who smoke. It looks like we're all chain smokers now.

Last month’s data shows that the Air Quality Index (AQI) in Guwahati had shot up to 371 on October 27 (Sunday) and 336 on October 28 (Monday).

A Pollution Control Board of Assam (PCBA) official informed G Plus that these are very worrying numbers as an AQI below 50 signifies that the air is of good quality while a reading above 300 indicates that the air quality is hazardous.

When G Plus tried to get the latest figures from the Central Pollution Control Board, the only station available was Railway Colony, Guwahati – APCB and the data shows that in the month of November the Continuous Ambient Air Quality is degrading with each passing day till November 8.

The Greenpeace report further added the list of 12 cities from Assam which was accounted for under Smart City programme.

A comparison of the list of smart cities with the list of 313 cities with 2017 annual PM10 data, shows that there are in fact 65 smart cities that should fall in the non-attainment list. There are an additional 20 smart cities for which data on Air Quality was not available. Only 12 smart cities had PM10 levels below 60 µg/m3, which is the annual standard for PM10 prescribed by CPCB under NAAQS.

According to the report published in 2018, the data indicates that 12 cities (except Bongaigaon) had higher concentrations of PM2.5 than the annual average levels prescribed and all of them had at least three times more polluted air as compared to the WHO annual standard for PM2.5.

The pollution level seemed to be on the higher side between 2015 and 2016 for Guwahati where data for 2015 and 2016 was available.

Based on the report published in January 2019, the Annual PM10 level since 2013 across cities/towns across Assam (NMAP stations) with calculated PM10 levels for 2024 based on 30% reduction as mentioned under NCAP.

The survey that took account of 13 cities across Assam to gauge the air pollution index found Silchar to be the most breathable place in Assam followed by Golaghat. Tezpur followed by Guwahati is at the worst.

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