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Death by Breath: For generators, rules in place but no one to enforce them

A 2013 pollution inventory found that diesel combustion from generators contributed 6 per cent of PM2.5 and 10 per cent of PM10 levels in Delhi and satellite towns.

Written by Pritha Chatterjee , Aniruddha Ghosal | New Delhi |
Updated: April 7, 2015 9:30:43 am
air pollution, death by breath, indian express death by breath, delhi, generators, diesel emmission A 2013 pollution inventory found that diesel combustion from generators contributed 6 per cent of PM2.5 and 10 per cent of PM10 levels in Delhi and satellite towns.

Next to vehicles, generator sets are the major contributor to pollution caused by diesel. Apartments, malls, hospitals and telecom towers are the major users. Emission norms are in place for generators but no one checks who follows them.

READ: Thirst for diesel food for poison

“From around 2006-07 we started alerting state boards on mobile towers that were growing,” said Dr B Sengupta, Central Pollution Control Board chairperson from 1998-2008 and a member of the government’s Auto Fuel Policy and Vision 2025 committee, said. “Every society, every small eatery had a DG set. We also saw a growth of malls in and around the capital which were consuming diesel for an average 7-8 hours daily.”


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A 2013 pollution inventory prepared by Dr Sarath Guttikunda found that diesel combustion from generators contributed 6 per cent of PM2.5 and 10 per cent of PM10 levels in Delhi and satellite towns. “Though the overall percentage is small, when spatially segregated these emissions are substantial,” says the study.


Malls, Hotels, Homes

A study by mall consultancy Asipac Group in 2011 found 63 malls in and around Delhi spanning 19.7 million sq ft, and 17 more coming up on 7.3 million sq ft. In areas suffering power cuts, most malls depend on generators. “In summer, we have 24-hour backup,” said a spokesperson for Spice Mall in Noida. So does Gurgaon’s DT City Centre, a spokesperson said.

READ: How, why diesel is dirty

“There must be almost 400 residential complexes in Noida and Greater Noida. Each one must spend at least Rs 4 lakh every month on diesels. You do the maths,” said N P Singh, Federation of Noida Residents Welfare Association. Sudhir Kapoor, secretary general of the RWA association in Gurgaon’s DLF City, said, “Many condominiums have their own round-the-clock backups. In places that do not, people and communities have come together to function on diesel gensets.”

Capture.JPG 2

Mobile Towers

According to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, diesel consumption in India’s telecom sector went up from 2 billion litres in 2007 to 3 billion in 2012. According to TRAI, telephone connections during 1999-2013 rose from 22.8 million to 1 billion , 96.5 per cent of these wireless. And while Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas data shows mobile towers account for only 2 per cent of India’s diesel consumption, towers are mushrooming in the capital.

A telecom-specific emission inventory was published in 2011 by Dr Saroj Kumar Sahu, a post-doctoral fellow at Forschungszentrum Julich, Germany, and Dr Gufran Beig, project director of SAFAR under the Ministry of Earth Sciences. It puts the emission from the sector nationwide at three times all emissions in Delhi, where 14,326 towers generated 2,123 tonnes PM10 per year.

Dr Beig said, “We found that after vehicles, the telecommunication sector  was the second most common user of diesel. In Delhi, the problem was compounded particularly in NCR, where power supply is erratic.” Dr Sengupta of CPCB agreed, “It is the fastest growing contributor to diesel use.”


In December 2013, CPCB updated its norms for generators (see table). The first norms had come in 2003, from the Ministry of Environment and Forest.

No one, however, checks for compliance. In 2002, the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission made it mandatory for consumers to get their generators checked but the Delhi Pollution Control Committee failed to work out a certification procedure and DERC in 2003 did away with this rule.

A senior environment department official from that time said “no data on diesel generator sets is available with any government agency.

“How can the environment department be expected to undertake house-to-house checks with no data?” Dr Sengupta too cited the lack of “adequate mechanisms to map the number of sets in use.”

In the absence of checks, many  users buy cheap sets that don’t follow the norms. “Only larger malls and hospitals buy sets that follow the norms,” said a Delhi government official.

J C Kohli, president of Indian Generator Manufacturers Association, attributes diesel-based pollution to “lack of regulation and policing”.

“In Delhi, besides the lakhs of generators that abide by guidelines, you will find a market three times its size near GB Road right under the nose of the authorities. These don’t follow any guidelines,” he said. He added the Indian standards for DG sets are as per the best global standards. “But who is monitoring the spurious market?… We have not heard of any such checks in Delhi,” he said.

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