Why UP can’t deliver what voters want: Clean air and water

Updated on Feb 17, 2017 01:29 PM IST

Clean air is among the top three issues that exercise voters in India’s most-populous state, but it isn’t an issue that political parties in Uttar Pradesh (UP) address – or want to.

A man sits by the banks of a polluted Ganga. The pollution-control regime of UP is not capable of enforcing clear-air and clean-water laws, and attempts to do so have led to widespread protests.(Manoj Yadav/ HT File Photo)
A man sits by the banks of a polluted Ganga. The pollution-control regime of UP is not capable of enforcing clear-air and clean-water laws, and attempts to do so have led to widespread protests.(Manoj Yadav/ HT File Photo)
Indiaspend | ByMukta Patil

As many as 46% of urban voters and 26% of rural voters polled before elections began in Uttar Pradesh (UP), said that the air they breathe is polluted, according to survey conducted by FourthLion Technologies, a data analytics and public opinion polling firm, for IndiaSpend. But air pollution isn’t an issue that political parties in UP address–or want to.

UP’s air is fouled by thousands of brick kilns, sugar factories and coal-fired power plants that violate new emission standards and are among the country’s dirtiest; a seventh of India’s most polluted zones and half the country’s cities with the worst air quality are situated in the state.

The pollution-control regime is not capable of enforcing clear-air and clean-water laws, and attempts to do so have led to widespread protests.

The pollution-control regime is not capable of enforcing clear-air and clean-water laws, and attempts to do so have led to widespread protests.

About 138 million people will vote in the UP legislative assembly elections, which started on February 11, and polling will unfold in seven phases until March 8, 2017.

People want clean air, but chafe at enforcement

When asked to choose between the three issues of reliable power, clean water and clean air, as important voting issues, 40% of the voters polled said reliable electricity was most important, 28% cited clean water and 16% said air quality.

FourthLion conducted 2,513 telephone interviews in Hindi of registered voters in UP, and said their sample is representative of UP’s urban and rural voters as well as socioeconomic, age, gender and caste make-up. The survey was conducted between January 24 and January 31, 2017.

Power cuts was the leading issue for voters, followed by jobs, clean water and air quality, IndiaSpend reported on February 6, 2017.

While 40% of the voters polled said reliable electricity was most important, 28% cited clean water and 16% said air quality.

But attempts at cleaning up even brick kilns have met with protests.

UP has six of India’s 43 polluted zones, five of 10 with worst air quality

Between 2009 and 2013, only Agra and Varanasi of six UP industrial zones have managed to improve their score on a national pollution index, while Singrauli has worsened.

For seven years now, India’s Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has ranked industrial zones using a Comprehensive Environment Pollution Index (CEPI), which assigns values between zero and 100, a rising score indicating worsening pollution and health hazards.

Zones with a score over 70 are considered critically polluted.

In terms of air quality, half of India’s most polluted cities were in UP – Allahabad, Varanasi, Lucknow, Ghaziabad and Agra occupied spots in the top 10 – as the for coal-fired thermal power plants. The new standards aim at reducing emissions of particulate matter (or particulates) called PM 10 to 0.98 kg/MWh (a measure of permissible particulate weight for energy excavated from power plants, which is measured in kilogram/megawatt hour); sulphur dioxide to 7.3 kg/MWh and oxides of nitrogen – their presence in the air modifies other pollutants – to 4.8 kg/MWh, to improve ambient air quality. Before 2015, India had in four UP cities: Agra, Lucknow, Kanpur and Varanasi.

Neither the sole monitoring stations in Agra and , nor the three in show PM 10 levels. Only one of three CPCB monitors in Varanasi can measure PM 2.5 – fine particles that can penetrate the lungs, levels of which are the leading marker of air quality – and none provide an air-quality index (AQI), a composite marker of various pollutants, as IndiaSpend reported on December 12, 2016.

In comparison, Delhi has 13 CPCB monitoring stations, which provide daily, live readings of PM 2.5, PM 10 and AQI.

While Kanpur was monitored for two years, Ghaziabad was monitored for 127 days. It is possible that a number of good and bad days were missed in several of these cities.

“Year-round monitoring is ideal so that seasonal variations can be seen in the data,” Madineni said. “In the case of UP, the spread of the monitors also needs to be across the state so that we can observe air quality in rural areas as well as industrial belts.”

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