Guwahati’s Air Pollution: Here’s Why Guwahatians Need to Be Very Concerned
Guwahati’s air quality is constantly being marked as ‘Poor.’ But how concerned are Guwahatians about the deteriorating air quality?
As winter sets in and with the advent of the dry season, Guwahatians have a lot to worry about in the backdrop of a pandemic. As per the Central Pollution Control Board website, when the air quality index (AQI) is “poor” it causes “breathing discomfort to most people on prolonged exposure” and very poor AQI causes “respiratory illness in prolonged exposure.”
But do the citizens of this metropolitan city actually understand their responsibilities? Here’s an instance.
The district administration and Assam Police appealed to the people of Guwahati not to burn crackers on New Year’s Eve. Given the ongoing pandemic situation, the police department even issued guidelines banning firecrackers, especially from 10 pm of the night of 31st December to 6 am of 1st January. Yet as the clock struck 12 am on 1st January, 2021, the city reverberated with the sound of crackers and aerial shots that continued for a good half an hour or even more. Who do we blame for this severe lack of civic sense?
Although the guidelines stated that strict action will be taken under section 188 of IPC against violators of Covid-19 protocols as section 144 was imposed, no such case was reportedly recorded.
If sources are to be believed, sellers of firecrackers allegedly cleared off their left over stock from Diwali at a significantly low price as sales during Diwali was relatively low and huge losses were incurred. Some people also informed that they celebrated wishing for a safe and better year ahead with the left over crackers from Diwali that they could not burn due to a strict ban.
This raised the AQI of Guwahati by 31 units in just one night. The AQI of Guwahati was 250 by the evening of 31st December (PM 10 and PM 2.5), which rose to 281 on 1st January.
Are Guwahatians concerned about the pollutants their vehicles are dispersing?
If the parameters contributing towards air pollution of other states are analyzed (Assam has no means to measure all the various parameters as of yet), vehicle pollution has the highest percentage. As the government continues to extend the validity of vehicular documents, including pollution testing certificates due to the pandemic situation, vehicles releasing smoke and pollutants have become a common sight in Guwahati.
On 1st September 2019, the Motor Vehicles Act came into force that compelled people to take a mandatory Pollution Under Control Certificate (PUCC) for every vehicle or pay hefty fines or even face suspension of registration. Many pollution testing centres mushroomed in and around Guwahati, although people claimed that many allegedly provided the certificates without proper testing. Whatever be the case, authorities claim that the strict implementation of the rule indeed curbed pollution in the metropolitan area, and people became conscious of vehicular pollution.
The pollution certificates were valid for a year, but due to the contagious coronavirus situation the government earlier had extended the validity of all vehicular certificates till 31st December, 2020. The District Transport Office geared up to restart the pollution testing process and 38 permanent as well as mobile such testing centers were readied across the city.
However, the central government extended this validity further till 31st March, 2021.
“Will the people of Guwahati understand their responsibilities and get their vehicles checked for pollution anomalies, or are Guwahatians concerned only about the fine that will be imposed due to the lack of valid certificates?” wondered a concerned citizen.
Animesh Das, Enforcement Inspector of DTO Kamrup (M) said, “We and the traffic department keep on conducting drives and awareness programs from time to time. But for how long? With relaxations being given it is not possible to charge people. The citizens must also understand and take responsibility. We are already lacking manpower.”
PCBA expresses inability to measure all parameters of Ghy’s rising air pollution:
G Plus enquired about the contributing factors to the degrading air quality. Surprisingly, the Pollution Control Board of Assam (PCBA) informed that the city does not have any means to calculate the parameters involved.
PK Sharma, Executive Environment Scientist, speaking to G Plus said, “We floated a tender, seeking agencies which could calculate every parameter that contributes towards the city’s pollution individually so that some step can be taken. We ourselves do not have the necessities required to conduct such a large scale survey and we also lack manpower.”
“However, no agency in Guwahati seems to be adequate enough to take up the task. Only the Indian Institute Technology, Guwahati submitted a proposal.”
Although other states of India have done similar surveys, none have been done on Guwahati officially so far. The parameters in question include transport emissions (from road, rail, aviation), residential emissions (from cooking, heating and lighting activities), industrial emissions (from small, medium and heavy industries including power generation), dust emissions (from road re-suspension and construction activities), open waste burning emissions, diesel generator set emissions, brick kiln emissions amongst others.
“It is very important that all are individually accounted for and we have submitted a proposal to the central government. The Centre has agreed for the same and the PCBA, in collaboration with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), will soon be conducting the survey once the expenses are allotted,” said Sharma.
Railways within the city a major cause of both air and noise pollution:
Officials of PCBA informed that the Railways has been a major cause of both air and noise pollution. UC Das, Lab Technician of PCBA said, “Let alone the other parts of Guwahati, we at the pollution control office bear the biggest burden of railway nuisance. The railway track is hardly 50 metres away from our office and we are not even able to conduct one meeting properly because of the noise.”
From time to time the National Highway Authority of India has claimed that possibilities of shifting the railway track from within the city to the outskirts (along NH37 bypass) has been considered. But given that NF Railways is in the process of electrifying the complete stretch of railway tracks in Guwahati by mid 2021, the possibility seems wishful.
Digressing from vehicles, officials of the PCBA pointed out the geography of Guwahati is such that it traps in the pollutants. PK Sharma, Executive Environment Scientist said, “The city is covered on all sides by hills. So the pollutants get trapped in as there is no exit route. In the approaching dry season, the AQI will rise higher due to dust particles.”
Allegedly, the cutting of hills for human settlement, most of which are reportedly illegal, is the main source of dust. And these pollutants are usually of PM 2.5 (very minute that can enter the human body while inhaling). Given the pandemic situation, PM 2.5 pollutants is a reason of major concern amongst experts.
Sharma further added, “Pollutants in Guwahati are mostly around PM 2.5. The larger ones which are calculated as PM 10 often get settled on the roads, along the dividers and footpaths due to their weight. The GMC should clear those more often if the flying of dust is to be prevented.”
Surprisingly, despite Guwahati being a metropolitan city that is gradually expanding, there is just one real time pollution monitoring centre in the city, located at the PCBA office in Bamunimaidan. Hence the monitoring of pollution can be done only of a small area.
Sharma informed, “We have set up another real time pollution monitoring system in the premises of Cotton University that will be inaugurated soon.”
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