As Delhi chokes on bad air, the national pollution watchdog’s data shows the rise in particulate matter pollution in Indian cities has been higher than major metros across the globe, leading to rise in road congestion and respiratory ailments.
Analysis of the Central Pollution Control Board’s data since 2002 showed that all major cities in north and central India --- Gwalior, Kanpur, Ludhiana, Gwalior and Surat --- have recorded higher pollution rise in percentage terms between 2002 and 2014 as compared to Delhi.
And it was because these cities had lower baseline pollution load than Delhi and rise in air pollution had been a recent phenomenon unlike Delhi where the first spurt was noticed in early 1990s.
It is also evident from Wednesday’s pollution data where Delhi’s coarse particles were around 1,200 micro grams in cubic metre of air as compared to around 460 for Gwalior, 480 for Ludhiana and 320 for Surat.
Globally, the rise in pollution levels in major cities such as New York and London was much less than any of the cities monitored by the CPCB. In fact, the pollution level in Beijing in 2014 has come down by around 4% as compared to 2002 level primarily because of series of measures taken there.
But nothing like that happened in any of the Indian cities.
In the last two decades, the carrying capacity of roads increased by less than 2.5% while vehicular population grew at over 10 % annually.
In 2008, 12 million vehicles plied on 3.5 million km road network in India but the number of vehicles jumped to 18 million in 2013 while road network saw a negligible increase.
“Vehicles in major cities are estimated to account for 70% of carbon monoxide, 50% of hydrocarbons and 30% of suspended particulate matter of the total pollution load,” said a CPCB report of 2014, which analysed the influence of increasing vehicle population on air quality.
Delhi has maximum air pollution load despite introduction of compressed natural gas (CNG) because of the highest vehicle density per kilometre in the country.
Mumbai came second, followed by Kolkata and Chennai. Half of two-wheelers and cars have been registered in the last five to seven years.
Vehicles older than 10 years contributed 60 % of vehicular pollution load mainly because of poor maintenance and absence of norms for expiry of a vehicle’s life, especially the private ones. Fuel adulteration is another reason for high pollution.
The report also claimed that air pollution was the sixth biggest cause of death in India and for the first time presented a figure of at least 3,000 deaths in Delhi every year.