School going children wear masks to protect themselves from the toxic Delhi - NCR air.(Mohd Zakir/HT PHOTO)
School going children wear masks to protect themselves from the toxic Delhi - NCR air.(Mohd Zakir/HT PHOTO)

What makes Gurugram the most polluted city in the world

A report found Gurugram to be the world’s most polluted last year. What has led to such a situation?
By HT Correspondent | Hindustan Times, Gurugram
UPDATED ON MAR 06, 2019 10:29 AM IST

Gurugram has emerged as the most polluted city in the world in 2018, according to a new report. The report, compiled and analysed by IQ AirVisual, a software company that tracks pollution worldwide, and environmental NGO Greenpeace, found that the city had received highest annual concentration of PM 2.5 in 2018.

The report once again puts the spotlight on the poor air quality in the city. While experts said the city had failed to take constructive steps towards curbing air pollution, they also expressed scepticism about the methodology adopted by the study.

Dipankar Saha, former head of the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) air quality lab, said all the top polluted cities as per the report, including Gurugram, were in the Indo-Gangetic plains, which played a crucial role in determining the pollution levels in the city, says Saha. “The air quality in this region is problematic due to accumulation of dust from neighbouring areas and poor ventilation index that does not allow proper dispersion of pollution,” he added.

Saha also said there were other important local factors that contributed towards the city’s air quality.

Ground-level emissions were another important influencing factor. “The city receives a lot of transported dust from the north-west and west. Additionally, ground-level emission problems are severe in Gurugram,” Saha said. The Aravallis, he said, was crucial and could act as buffer for the city. However, recent amendments to the Punjab Land Preservation Act, and proposals that sought the construction of a road through the Aravallis have experts in the city worried.

“Time and again, the government keeps announcing plans that either seek to build a road around the Aravalli Biodiversity Park, or more recently the amendment to the PLPA. Moves like these simply demonstrate the government’s lack of political will,” said Namita Gupta, an air quality expert in Gurugram, and founder of a city-based air quality consulting company.

She also said little was being done on the ground to keep a check on construction activities, a major source of dust. “Everywhere you go, the roads are dug up. Delhi has pockets of construction going on, but Gurugram has construction going on everywhere. It is a developing city, but one cannot override environmental concerns in favour of development,” Gupta added.

She also said vehicular emission was an area of concern. “Delhi has CNG requirement for public transport. Gurugram doesn’t even have that. They have done nothing to remove vehicles spewing black smoke. Vehicular emission is probably higher in Gurugram. They haven’t taken any of the good enforcements from Delhi and applied it here,” she said.

Excessive dependance on diesel generators was also an important factor why emissions were being added. “Everyone use these gensets. Why can’t the government promote solar energy and control the use of these gensets? There is no will from the government’s end to take concrete steps.” said Gupta.

Sachin Panwar, an air quality scientist, said that while the CPCB had issued multiple guidelines regarding checks on construction in the city, there was little implementation on the ground.

“While we keep hearing that fines have been issued, one can’t really say if that is being done. Officers often say the area is not falling in their jurisdiction and no steps are taken to fine people. Similarly, there are talks about controlling garbage burning, but one can still find that these continue to happen,” said Panwar.

Panwar also said it was important to hold the report to scrutiny.

“When we label a city with titles like these, it is important to assess the data set being used. The data in the city is not truly representative since there are few air quality monitors, and they do not work accurately all the time.” Gupta also said it was important to factor in the methodology adopted.

“It depends on the sample size. Additionally, due to the lack of air quality monitors in the city, one needs to be careful while drawing such conclusions from these reports,” said Gupta.

Government officials, however, said they are taking adequate steps towards improving the city’s air quality.

“We are actively taking steps to ensure that construction activity and other activities that add to pollution are controlled. The city did fairly well in implementing the Graded Response Action Plan (Grap). Additionally, we will take steps to ensure that those who violate the rules are fined. We also plan to get more air quality monitoring stations,” Kuldeep Singh, regional officer (Gurugram), Haryana State Pollution Control Board (HSPCB), said.

Residents, however, said pollution had been a major cause of concern for them over the last year. Tanya Sharma, a private school teacher, said her health troubles had increased over that time. “I moved to the city in May last year. Since then, I have been experiencing breathing problems. Doctors tell I have allergic bronchitis and the poor air doesn’t help. In fact, it’s only after moving to the city that these concerns became a constant.”

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