July 30, 2021 10:20:36 am
With an aim to improve the air quality in Ludhiana — which is often ranked among the most polluted cities in the country — government officials and experts came together for a virtual discussion to highlight post-Covid-19 challenges in the implementation of the ‘Clean Air Action Plan’, and the role of stakeholders in ensuring effective implementation.
The discussion was organised by EcoSikh in collaboration with ‘Clean Air Punjab’, a citizen initiative. The panel included Swati Tiwana, joint commissioner, Ludhiana Municipal Corporation; Gulshan Rai, chief environmental engineer, Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB); Kahan Singh Pannu, former IAS and advisor, NHAI Punjab region; Tanushree Ganguly, programme lead, Air Quality from Council on Energy Environment and Water (CEEW), and citizen activist Jaskirat Singh.
More than a hundred concerned citizens from Ludhiana, which had received a special grant of Rs 26 crore last year to improve air quality in the state’s industrial heartland, attended the session to understand how authorities were implementing and executing the action plan.
Tiwana said Ludhiana was a ‘non-attainment’ city (a city is declared non-attainment if over a five-year period it consistently does not meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards) and hence has been getting grants under the 15th Finance Commission from the Centre specifically to control sources of pollution, and neutralise, if not minimise them.
“To counter all the damages being caused due to air pollution, efforts must be put into making complete changes on the ground as well as planning in a way that at least in the future, we are able to bring down air pollution levels,” she emphasised.
Explaining that despite Ludhiana being among the nine non-attainment cities in Punjab, Tanushree Ganguly said it had only one real-time and 4 manual monitoring stations, as opposed to a minimum requirement of 11 monitors.
“However, none of the manual stations report data on PM2.5. Transport, dust, industries, and the residential sector are the major pollution sources in the city. Interestingly, existing source apportionment studies for the city point to a significant contribution from sources outside city limits,” she said.
Ganguly further stated that seasonal crop residue burning also deteriorates the city’s air quality. “Therefore, to address pollution in the city, it would be imperative to ramp up air quality monitoring and generate more evidence on local and regional sources of pollution impacting the city,” she added.
Kahan Singh Pannu said strict action needs to be taken against pollution from smoke-spewing factories, especially thermal, paper, cement and chemical plants, besides brick-kilns as these industry owners often deliberately turn off pollution control devices to save cost, even though effectively installed. “Air quality measuring stations need to be set up at around 100 places in the state. No violation should be allowed to go unpunished,” he said.
Highlighting the reducing green cover, Jaskirat Singh, an environment activist, said that Ludhiana has only a 1.65 per cent forest cover, which authorities and citizens need to not only protect at all costs but also take efforts to increase.
“Apart from other actions under the clean air action plan, we must also conserve our Mattewara forest and all other smaller forests and tree cover in Ludhiana as we and our future generations will need oxygen to breathe and this green cover will help us in improving the air quality.”
Post the virtual discussion, a group of citizens, which attended the meeting, decided to form a watchdog group. This group of active citizens will keep track of the implementation of Ludhiana’s clean air action plan.
Experts and citizens also highlighted that as per a report by IQAir, Ludhiana’s ranking amongst the most polluted cities has dropped over the past three years — from being 95th in 2018, it ranked 142 in 2020. However, air quality experts have been cautioning the authorities that the situation still remains critical as PM2.5 levels in Ludhiana was currently four times above the WHO exposure recommendation.
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