TC Nautiyal, Member Secretary of the Chandigarh Pollution Control Committee speaks to The Indian Express about the deteriorating air quality, factors responsible for it and measures which a citizen can take to do his bit.
What has been the air quality in Chandigarh over the last few days?
Over the last few days, the air quality index which was within the ‘Good’ and ‘Satisfactory’ levels but is now ‘Moderate’. It was in the ‘Poor’ category on the day of Dussehra. Even today it continues to be ‘Moderate’, which causes breathing problems to people with heart and lung diseases. The monitoring station at sector 50 recorded the Air quality Index as 83 micrograms per cubic meter (satisfactory) on October 17 but it shot up to 187 micrograms per cubic meter on October 18. The situation continued and recorded moderate levels with 150 micrograms per cubic meter by 2 pm on October 19- the Dussehra day. However, on the evening of october 19th after people celebrated Dussehra, the air quality deteriorated and went upto 280 micrograms per cubic meter (Poor) level at 9 pm. On October 20, however, it came down to 140 micrograms per cubic meter, but continues to remain in moderate category. The AQI varied between 27-34 micrograms per cubic meter on October 11, which was ‘Good’. It was after that, it started increasing.
The AQI shot up from satisfactory levels to moderate level before Dussehra too. Is it stubble burning that started affecting the Air quality in Chandigarh ?
Yes. Stubble burning has started affecting air quality. Chandigarh does not contribute in it but it does suffer. But over and above that, we must not further aggravate the situation by burning money in the form of firecrackers. Crop residue burning is a larger issue and requires policy measures. As a matter of fact, it is just a fortnight’s affair when the fields have to be cleared. The governments of Punjab and Haryana should make a policy. Also, since it is winter, it is the inversion period. There is a change in the upper layer of atmosphere and wind speed is low. So, I feel even the farmers should be responsible enough not to resort to burning of crop residue. The governments must enforce it and take preventive measures against the people practising stubble burning in farms. However the farmers will have to be given attractive options against burning. Mere prohibition may not be the solution.
Since Diwali is approaching and crackers will be used for celebrations, what message would you like to convey to Chandigarh residents so that the air quality doesnt deteriorate?
People are educated here in Chandigarh and they must know that the crackers they are bursting will be coming back into their noses in the form of poisonous gases. I would rather say celebrate Diwali in a different way. Share happiness not pollution. Your way of celebrating may be creating breathlessness among other residents including elders and children – so say no crackers this Diwali.
Chandigarh is a place with all educated people and they should realise that these crackers have heavy metals which are really dangerous. So people must educate their kids too not to resort to cracker bursting. I feel awareness to a larger extent is required.
Do you feel enforcing the cracker ban can help curb the air pollution to a larger extent?
We may have restricted the timings, ensuring that crackers are not used beyond this limit. But, enforcement agencies like the police cannot do much. Citizens should come forward. The problem in Chandigarh is that everyone wants clean air but no one wants to contribute. One expects everything to be done by the government. Policemen can’t follow each person to see if he is bursting crackers beyond the permissible limit. Even the Chandigarh Pollution Control Committee can create awareness. Parents who usually buy crackers for the happiness of their children should know that they are indirectly affecting everyone’s health as the polluted air will be inhaled by them only.
What measures or initiatives has the CPCC taken to control the air pollution in the city ?
CPCC is a regulatory body. We can issue directions to industry or any other institution but we can only appeal to the better sense of the citizens who should play their role in the efforts to bring down pollution. They can use cycles or electric vehicles for commuting. We will also be issuing an advisory if the situation demands.
CPCC has been monitoring the air quality. We do have some interactions with schools ahead of Diwali and a mass outreach programme to children. But, again I will say that citizens have to act responsibly. They will have to ensure that they are contributing their bit. Like in case of use of personal vehicles which is the highest in Chandigarh, if residents go in for car pooling, it will reduce the number of personal vehicles. At the same time, if they stop using plastic, which contributes a lot to air pollution, that will also help.
There were studies that air pollution in the city has, on the whole, deteriorated in the last ten years. What factors you feel have contributed to it?
Indeed it has deteriorated as number of vehicles have gone up a lot in Chandigarh. May be we should double our efforts to bring down pollution by creating more awareness and how individual contribution in reducing pollution will be very helpful. This city is highly educated yet we do not see people walking to nearby markets. People should be reminded that this is a healthy habit. Besides, we should strengthen our public transport- creating a efficient mix of bus and taxi services, which will persuade people to leave their vehicles at home. If we continue to add to the personal vehicles, the infrastructure will never be sufficient. The public transport in that sense should be ‘trustworthy”. One thing which the government can make mandatory is that second car has to be an electric vehicle. At a place like Chandigarh, it can be
What precautions people should take when AQI deteriorates?
If the air quality goes below moderate, one should restrict their movement and brisk physical activities. Morning and evening walks should be avoided. Senior citizens and children are the most vulnerable, so children should not be allowed to play for long, as there will be a prolonged