The debate on air pollution being a serious threat to health in Ahmedabad was reignited this week when a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed in Gujarat High Court sought the court’s direction for taking measures to improve the ambient air quality of Ahmedabad and the state at large. The PIL not only sought a ban on all diesel-powered commercial and public transport vehicles that failed to comply with the latest emission norms but also requested the court to issue directions to the state government to convert all diesel-run commercial and public transport vehicles into CNG in the long run.
The issue had already been flagged by a study publicized by Greenpeace that showed pollution levels in Ahmedabad and other Indian cities like Kanpur and Banaras exceed air pollution levels in Beijing and other Chinese cities. The two developments have happened at a time when the local authorities are rejigging their plans to maintain the quality of air in the city which over a decade ago have topped pollution charts.
The Greenpeace study, using the NAQI (National Air Quality Index) system between April-November 2015, quotes data from Maninagar station in Ahmedabad and states that during 61 per cent of the days between April to November 2015 — when pollution data was available — the air quality standards in the city had shot up above the nationally permissible limits.
However, data with the regional office of GPCB in Ahmedabad which has been monitoring air pollution under the National Air Quality Monitoring Programme (NAMP) through seven stations since 2005 indicates that the yearly average of PM 2.5 during 2014-15 is between 29-37 micrograms/m3 — well under the national standards 40 micrograms/m3.
Nevertheless, air pollution is rising rapidly. The levels of PM 2.5 that existed during 2013-14 (between 20-30 micrograms/m3) is proof enough that air pollution levels are on the rise in Ahmedabad, where industries have expanded operations on the eastern, southern and western peripheries and where city infrastructure has not been able to keep pace with the annual growth in vehicular traffic.
Particulate Matter (PM) has contributed most to the bad air quality days between April-November 2015. In a city, where economic growth is largely driven by entrepreneurs and businessmen, particulate matter like PM 2.5 (heavy metals, toxic organic compounds) and PM 10 (smoke, dirt and dust) is generated largely by industries and by vehicular traffic. As per National Ambient Air standards, the PM 10 levels should not exceed 60 micrograms per cubic meter (m3) and PM 2.5 levels should not go beyond 40 micrograms/m3.
“The data for this year is yet to be made public. However, I would like to point out that in 2003-04, Ahmedabad was at the fourth spot in the country as far as air pollution was concerned. By 2011, the city had improved drastically and stood at 66th position. In 2003, only four percent of the city’s population used public transport, today it has gone up to 14 percent,” said Nehal Ajmera, Regional Officer (Ahmedabad) of GPCB.
Officials of GPCB point out that the air pollution in Ahmedabad which hovered around the 200 micrograms/m3 mark in 2000-01 has come down through the implementation of the Air Pollution Action Plan proposed by the Bhure Lal Committee. By the year 2007, Ahmedabad had operationalised 56 CNG stations, converted over 38,000 autorickshaws to CNG, put 591 CNG buses on city roads and had initiated the first 12 kilometers of the BRTS project.
“Though the overall air pollution has reduced drastically, the levels of PM 10 and PM 2.5 are still areas we have to work on. We will need coordination between different departments like transport, municipal corporation and civil supplies, to bring these levels down further. In spite of taking a number of measures like introduction of CNG in public transport, BRTS, wall-to-wall carpeting of roads (to reduce dust), construction of flyovers, widening of roads, etc., heavy traffic compounded by rising number of private diesel vehicles, construction activities and industrial emissions have been impediments in improving the air quality of the city,” Ajmera said.
“Our efforts are still on. For instance, we have seven stations monitoring air quality in Ahmedabad. This December, we have added two more stations at Rakhial and Pirana dump site (one of the biggest municipal solid waste dump yards of Ahmedabad) as we wanted to cover more areas,” she added.