While a WHO report puts Amritsar on a global ranking of 14 among the most polluted cities of the world, the figures pertaining to the ambient air pollution posted by the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) on its official website contradict the claims of WHO. As per the PPCB data, the concentration of respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM) in the city's ambient air has decreased after 2011, when it was quite high.
A study of the figures from January 2011 to March 2014, taken from two different stations in the city shows a decline in the RSPM levels in the ambient air of Amritsar. According to the PPCB officials, these figures were taken from readings conducted thrice a week at two different stations--Vinod Milk Chilling Centre and Nagina Soap Factory--in Amritsar from January 2011 to March 2014.
However, the figures still surpass the permissible limit of 100 mcg. The annual average of 2011 taken at Vinod Milk Chilling Centre is 214 mcg, of 2012 is 196 mcg and 2013 is 177 mcg. The comparative study for the first three months of the year from 2011 to 2014 too shows a decline in RSPM levels. In January 2011, the RSPM levels stood at 223 mcg, in January 2012 stood at 183 mcg, in January 2013 at 181 mcg and in January 2014 these levels stood at 177 mcg.
The WHO report, which covers 1600 cities around the world, cites Delhi as the most polluted while mentioning Agra, Allahabad, Amritsar, Bhopal, Chandrapur, Dehradun, Kota and Lucknow among the 20 most polluted cities in the world.
PPCB OFFICIALS' VERSION
Gurinder Singh Majithia, senior environmental engineer, PPCB, said the figures posted on their website point out the success of the PPCB in curbing the environmental pollution in the city.
"The Board has been successful in making the industrial units install air pollution control devices. Besides, road dust separation is also being regularly carried out by the Amritsar municipal corporation," he said.
WHAT THE NGOS SAY
However, environmental NGOs in the city are not satisfied with the PPCB figures. Deepak Babbar, director, Mission Aagaaz, an environmental NGO, cites an Asia-level study conducted a few years ago to point out the immense vehicular concentration on GT Road, Amritsar. "As per the study, the stretch of
GT Road that passes through Amritsar is the most traversed in the continent," he claimed.
He added that this pointed out the fact that the immense vehicular concentration here is also responsible for air pollution in the city. Gunbir Singh, EcoAmritsar chairman, said it is indeed a matter of shame that Amritsar, the sixth most desired destination worldwide, has been adjudged by WHO as the 14th most polluted city globally. Suggesting some game changers in this context, he said, "Make the city plastic free, professionalise garbage collection and management, ensure adequate non-pollutant public transport system, increase green cover radically to facilitate clean air flow, regulate farm waste disposal, restrict lifecycle of vehicles and impound pollutant vehicles".
The number of vehicles is constantly on the increase in the city. The number of unregistered auto rickshaws alone is more than 50,000, while that of the registered ones is almost the double. A majority of these use petrol mixed with kerosene, which is one of the major pollutants. Coupled with other small and heavy vehicles plying along the GT Road, they become one of major reasons of air pollution.
Amritsar deputy commissioner Ravi Bhagat said that the district administration was doing its best to curb pollution in the area around the Golden Temple. "Besides, there is a proposal to install an air control monitoring system near the Golden Temple, the first of its kind in the state, as well as a 66 kv sub station. Both the proposals are likely to be implemented soon," he said.
According to the industrialists in the city, the number of polluting units in the city has declined. A number of these have shifted out of Amritsar or even Punjab. The ones that remain are absolutely negligible.
Suneet Kochhar, director, Khanna Paper Mill, said that the mill was doing everything that it could to curb industrial pollution. "We regularly undertake tree plantation drives and have installed all the devices to curb pollution," he said.