A report published on Thursday 17 December 2015 by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in India reported that air pollution in Delhi is responsible for between 10,000 to 30,000 deaths each year. As if that isn’t ominous enough, the ‘Body Burden 2015: State of India’s Health’ report claims that climate change is leading to a higher frequency and intensity of extreme weather events in the region.

See more information on the Body Burden 2015 report here

A Supreme Court Directive issued on 28 July 1998 set an agenda up to 2002 with clear objectives defining vehicle emissions standards; mandating the most significant CNG fuelled public transport initiative ever; placing a cap on the age of commercial vehicles; and diverting a large percentage of truck traffic. During this time the Delhi Government relocated polluting industries, converted two coal power plants to natural gas, and banned open burning. By 2007 the city’s Metro network was expanded, Euro IV standards were implemented, and a small network of cycle tracks and footpaths were constructed around the Commonwealth Games venues.

Delhi is now home to approximately 7.5 million vehicles, with the fleet growing by 1400 each day

Delhi is now home to approximately 7.5 million vehicles, with the fleet growing by 1400 each day, and any gains from the 1998 Directive have been negated. Particulate concentrations increased 75% between 2002 and 2012 in association with a 97% increase in vehicle numbers. Each winter, calm and cool conditions allow air pollution to be suspended in the air rather than disperse. These conditions (resulting a PM2.5 concentrations of three to four times the 24 hour standard of 60 micrograms per cubic metre on average) is extremely dangerous for asthmatics and sufferers of respiratory and cardiac problems. In smog episodes, concentrations can be 8 to 10 times higher than the standard.

A 2012 epidemiological study published by the Indian Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute in Kolkata, involving more than 11000 schoolchildren from 36 schools throughout Delhi, found that one in every three children had reduced lung function. They also had four times more iron laden macrophages compared to children in less polluted areas, indicating an increased propensity to pulmonary haemorrhage. The Health Effects Institute based in the United States has reported than more than half of Delhi’s population of 17 million people live within 500 metres of arterial roads. Vehicles have long been known as a major cause of air pollution for road and public transport users, walkers and cyclists. Research conducted by the University of California Berkeley has shown that vehicle PM2.5 concentrations can be 1.5 times higher than in the surrounding air, and the concentrations of ultrafine particles can be 8.5 times higher. Short term peaks can reach up to 1000 micrograms per cubic metre which is more than 16 times the 24 hour standard.

Delhi’s Clean Air Action Plan, published by the CSE in 2014, outlined an Action Agenda committed to:

  • Pollution Emergency Measures
  • Leapfrog Emissions Standards of New Vehicles
  • Control Dieselisation
  • Favourable taxation policy for Clean Fuels-CNG
  • Assessing criteria, standards and governance of all on-road vehicle usage
  • Improving and up-scale public transport and last mile connectivity
  • The public’s right to safe walking and cycling on all roads
  • Restraining the growth rate of car ownership
  • Taxing cars annually and at a higher rate than buses used for public transport
  • Creating an Urban Transport Fund to promote public transport
  • An NCR-wide plan for Air-shed Management
  • Regulating power plants, open burning, generator sets & construction

In terms of pollution emergency measures, Delhi doesn’t have a forecasting system providing advance warning about air pollution hazards and risk. City inhabitants can only be informed during an occurrence or the day after, thus any warnings issued can only be of use if there are at least two days of severe pollution. This is unsatisfactory, however there are no current alternatives. The public is also not provided with information regarding the dangers of poor and severe pollution concentrations, and no emergency procedures are being put into effect during times of alert (e.g. kindergartens and schools should be closed, polluting factories shut down, etc).

As a priority, the Clean Air Action Plan suggests that an Air Quality Index (AQI) be implemented to inform the public about dangers of exposure, and clearly define measures to reduce pollution. These measures will have to focus on the number of private vehicles on the road; increasing public transport services; restricting diesel traffic; and enforcing a ban on open burning. In terms of emergency measures, the report also recommends that air quality monitoring and modelling should be strengthened to enable forecasting; and for more robust air quality assessment, the CPCB and the Ministry of Earth Sciences should upgrade their monitoring stations so that daily real-time pollutant data (including PM2.5) can be reported.

There are currently two levels of emissions standards in India, however they do not facilitate trucks transitioning to cleaner fuel or better emissions technology. That said, the immediate introduction of nation-wide 2015 Bharat Stage IV standards policy will realise significant benefits – with the new standard for private vehicles 50% better for particulates, and standards for trucks more than 80% cleaner than the preceding policy.

See the Delhi Clean Air Action Plan here

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