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Small cities hit by smog, govt hazy

Alarm bells ring as winter phenomenon goes beyond metros, affects several places across India. Chetan Chauhan reports.

delhi Updated: Nov 09, 2012 02:13 IST
Chetan Chauhan

This winter, Delhi and other metropolitan cities are not the only places with smog worries. Data with the Central Pollution Control Board show a sudden rise in particulate matter - a primary cause for smog - in smaller cities such as Lucknow, Kanpur, Ludhiana, Amritsar, Ahmedabad and Solapur across Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra.

"It is spreading like a slow epidemic," said a scientist.

While the board has failed to suggest any remedial measures to state governments, studies conducted on its adverse effects have been quite conclusive.

Kolkata-based Chitranjan Institute has already established that high exposure to particulate matter, especially during the smog period, may result in life-long breathing disorders among children. CPCB data show that smog levels in Punjab towns, including Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Amritsar, were very high - with the respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM) rising above 500 micro grams per cubic metre, five times the national standard.

"The entire region is covered by a thick blanket of smog, showing a steady degradation in the overall environment condition of the state," said SS Hundal, head of department of agro-meteorology in the Punjab Agricultural University.

Burning of agricultural waste is one of the main reasons for high pollution levels. Stating that the answer to this lay in using the waste to generate bio-fuel, officials in the ministry of new and renewable energy said that state governments should push farmers to go for that option. Agricultural waste worth R10,000 crore goes up in smoke every year, he added.

A spokesperson from the India Meteorological Department said that besides the usual weather conditions, the smog situation was exacerbated by the Cyclone Nilam - which hit southern India last week.

Making this worse is the fact that many smaller towns and cities do not even have air pollution monitoring mechanisms in place. The CPCB helps monitor primary pollutants only in 240 locations across the country, which accounts for less than 100 cities.