23 Jun Air Pollution in Delhi
A study published by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (Epic) in June 2022, has found that likely to shorten the life of an average Delhi resident by 10 years.
The life expectancy in Delhi is shortened because of air pollution in the city, it’s not surprising.
What is surprising is the number — 10 years. That is a huge number. As per the database of the World Bank, life expectancy at birth in our country in the year 2020 was 70 years and in the year 1995, was 60 years. Thus, a reduction of 10 years mentioned above is equivalent to wiping out 25 years of social development in our country.
As the Road Transport Yearbook published by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, amongst cities in our country, Delhi has the highest number of registered motor vehicles (11.4 million), followed by Faridabad (8.6 million), Bengaluru (8.1 million), Chennai (6 million) and Ahmedabad (4.3 million) in the year 2019. And Faridabad lies next to Delhi. One does not need to say aloud this is one of the major causes of air pollution in the city.
The report stated that the top four contributors to PM10 emissions were road dust (56%), concrete batching (10%), industrial point sources (10%) and vehicles (9%) and the top four contributors to PM2.5 emissions were road dust (38%), vehicles (20%), domestic fuel burning (12%) and industrial point sources (11%).
Road dust includes pebbles; bits of asphalt; bits of brake pads, tires, and engines; and even road paint.
(PM here means ‘particulate matter’ and the numbers mean the size of particles in microns.
PM2.5, being smaller in size can be carried to our lungs by inhaled air, more easily than PM10 and hence, is the more dangerous of the two types.)
In October 2020, Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas was set up for better coordination, research, identification, and resolution of problems related to air quality in the National Capital Region (NCR) and adjoining areas. Adjoining areas have been defined as areas in Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh, adjoining the National Capital Territory of Delhi and NCR, where any source of pollution may cause an adverse impact on air quality in the NCR.
The commission decides on a seasonal basis, prohibition and re-permitting of construction and demolition work in NCR. This should take off the ‘concrete batching’ cause.
Another cause which is often mentioned in media but is not among the top contributors is the burning of crop stubble by farmers in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Stubble is the short stalks which are left standing in fields after crops like wheat, have been cut.
Farmers in northern India burn an estimated 23 million tons of straw from their rice harvests. That enormous mass of straw, if packed into 20-kilogram 38-centimetre-high bales and piled on top of each other, would reach a height of over 4,3 lakh kilometres — about 1.1 times the distance to the moon.
The farmers need to get rid of stubble, before planting the next crop.
To sow wheat directly without ploughing or burning rice straw, farmers have to attach straw shedders to their rice harvesters.
Leaving straw on the soil as a mulch helps capture and retain moisture and also improves soil quality, according to M.L. Jat, Principal Scientist at International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center located in Mexico.
Then why do the farmers not do this?
The answer is the farmers need to purchase or rent a tractor-mounted implement known as ‘Happy Seeder’.
A search on the e-commerce website ‘indiamart.com’, told the author that the price of this equipment is Rs 1.6 lakh upwards.
When burning stubble costs nothing, why would a rational farmer spend 1.6 lakhs?
Initiatives taken by governments and their agencies are many. Only time will tell how effective the initiatives have been.