Pune: Scattered efforts take steam out of measures to check falling air quality

Dr Gufran Beig, Project Director at SAFAR, said that the percentage of pollutants in the air from vehicular emission has increased manifold as compared to that from other sources.

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Pune | Published: April 27, 2017 6:15 am
Air pollution, Pune air quality, Pune air, Pune environment, polluted air, indian express news The rise in the number of vehicles in Pune is an area of concern. Arul Horizon

The need for a science-based urban Air Quality Management (AQM) programme was strongly felt way back in 2004 after Pune was found to be the fifth most polluted city in the country. Along with the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the Pune Municipal Corporation launched an Air Quality Management (AQM) Cell. Then too, the values of PM 10 and PM 2.5 had exceeded permissible limits, indicating that the particulate air pollution was of serious concern.

Thirteen years ago, experts found that the major source contributing to PM10 as per emission inventory was paved road dust (60 per cent), unpaved road dust (11 per cent), vehicle (11 per cent), street sweeping (4 per cent), trash burning (2 per cent), industrial and non-industrial generator (3 and 4 per cent). “We had outlined sector-wise strategies — for example, on shifting brick kilns out of the city, shifting to cleaner fuel, setting up walking plazas, area traffic control systems to cater to smooth vehicle mobility and other sustainable goals like reduction of trash burning, which is one of the sources of particulate matter emissions,” recalled Dr Ajay Ojha, who had headed the AQM cell.

Five years later, the AQM cell shut down as the project ended with USEPA. According to PMC officials, the AQM cell had functioned like an external agency within the civic body and the latter decided to set up its own Environment Cell in 2009. “Somehow, somewhere, the focus on air quality monitoring got lost,” Ojha reflected and pointed out that the AQM cell was like a movement that they took through for four to five years to make it a successful model. “While polices to de-congest traffic, fuel improvement are fine, the focus on air quality control is more or less scattered now,” he said. Mangesh Dighe, in-charge of the Environment Cell at PMC, said that by itself air pollution was a subject tackled by several agencies and, hence, efforts have got scattered. The problem is being addressed. For instance, the Bhurelal committee had, in 2012, recommended retrofitting of auto-rickshaws that were more than 15-years-old with CNG or LPG kits, Dighe said, pointing out that the PMC had given subsidy to such autos and other measures, like shifting brick kilns outside the city, were also taken.

Presently, the air quality monitoring by PMC’s experts is done at three locations – Navi Peth, Mandai and Hadapsar. PMC has also tied up with the System of Air Quality Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) scientists, who are involved in framing the Air Quality Index in the country, along with Ministry of Earth Sciences and Central Pollution Control Board. They have been monitoring PM 10 and PM 2.5 in four cities, including Pune. There are 10 stations where air quality is monitored in Pune by SAFAR.

In Pune, the air quality has by and large been in the moderate category, Dighe said. What is of concern is the rise in the number of vehicles. In the last five years, the level of nitrogen oxide ranged between 45 and 60 microgram per cubic metre (permissible limit is 40). PM 10 levels range between 90 and 120 microgram per cubic metre (permissible limit is 60) while PM 2.5 ranges between 50 and 60 microgram per cubic metre (permissible limit is 40), Dighe said. There is a strong need to reduce personal mode of transport, Dighe stressed.

Dr Gufran Beig, Project Director at SAFAR, said that the percentage of pollutants in the air from vehicular emission has increased manifold as compared to that from other sources. Data from SAFAR in the last few years has indicated that if emission levels can be reduced then pollution would also decrease. The air quality trend follows a pattern: it is in the permissible range during monsoon in the city and remains from good to moderate during summer. The hard-hit period is winter when pollution levels peak and air quality dips to poor category, Beig explained.

At Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI), director Rashmi Urdhwareshe said that newer vehicles will be cleaner as Bharat Stage VI emission norms will have to be adhered to by 2020. This will bring down nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel cars and petrol engine cars. “We will have to address the in-use vehicles, specially the maintenance of autos, buses and taxis,” the ARAI director said, suggesting measures to address air pollution.

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