Dehradun was ranked the 31st most polluted city in the world in a World Health Organization (WHO) report, indicating that vehicular exhaust and rampant waste burning were choking the state capital with little oversight.
The report — Global Urban Ambient Air Pollution Database — considered annual average concentration of PM 2.5, or particulate matter that is less than 2.5 microns in size and directly linked to health risks, in 3,000 cities from 103 countries.
The levels of small and fine particulate matter (PM 10 and PM 2.5) in Dehradun were found to be 188 and 100 micrograms per cubic metre of air respectively. The WHO safety limit for PM 2.5 is 20 ug/m3, and the Indian standard is 40 ug/m3.
Once considered a green city, Doon’s inclusion in the list of the most polluted cities in the world, however, is not surprising to environmentalists.
The 2015 Ambient Air Quality data of the Environment Protection and Pollution Control Board of Uttarakhand put the average amount of PM 10 (particulate matter up to 10 microns in size) at 159 PPM (parts per million volume of air) per day at the Clock Tower — one of the busiest spots in the city. At Raipur Road, another high-traffic area, the figure was 155 PPM.
These grew drastically over the year and were recorded at 203 PPM at the Clock Tower and 230 PPM at Raipur Road until March 2016. The safe standard is 100 PPM per day.
“I haven’t gone through the WHO report as of now, but there has certainly been a decline in the air quality of Dehradun over the years,” pollution control board secretary Vinod Singhal told HT.
Growing traffic: Though no formal study has been conducted to assess its exact impact, vehicular emissions are said to be contributing significantly to the city’s pollution. The traffic in Dehradun has surged drastically over the past decades, especially after it became the interim capital of Uttarakhand in November 2000.
Over 700,000 vehicles are registered with the Dehradun regional transport office (RTO) and around 53,000 to 55,000 new vehicles are said to be registered every year. Traffic police say at least 250,000 private and 2,500 commercial vehicles (such as loaders and trolleys) ply in the city daily. In public conveyance, there are around 270 city buses and 1,200 ‘vikrams’ on the city streets each day, officials said.
“There is an urgent need to check vehicular emissions, especially those of public transport and taxis. Old vehicles should be phased out gradually,” said environmentalist Anil P Joshi.
Waste mismanagement: Mahesh Bhandari, the president of the Doon Resident Welfare Front (an umbrella group of 60 resident welfare associations), said besides traffic, one of the most pertinent reasons for the poor air quality is unchecked burning of waste in the open.
“Despite burning of waste being prohibited (under Municipal Solid Wastes Management and Handling Rules), there is no effective check on the same by the civic body. Together with growing number of vehicles, the situation has become quite alarming for citizens. We could soon become another Delhi,” Bhandari said, calling for prompt action against the culprits by the Dehradun Municipal Corporation.
Odd-even in Doon: Experts says implementing the odd-even formula — the traffic rationing plan in Delhi that allows vehicles with odd and even numbers on the road on alternate days — could help ease traffic in Dehradun.
“We need to implement or at least experiment with the viability of holding the odd-even formula here for easing out traffic movement and improving air quality in Doon,” environmentalist Anil P Joshi said.
Green conveyance: Environment and forest minister Dinesh Agarwal said the government has taken up the Dehradun’s ranking among the most polluted cities “very seriously” and would implement measures shortly.
“First of all, we would like to promote green transport such as e-rickshaws and cycles in Dehradun. I’d also take up the matter of increasing green vehicles in the city with the cabinet. Instructions will be issued to the civic body to check burning of waste in the open,” Agarwal told HT.