Why India Can’t Breathe

It’s almost 6 am, roads buzz with traffic, you wake up and open your window to take in a breath of fresh air. Instead, what do you get? A smog filled view and a whiff of air that is heavy with smoke and other harmful particles.

Apart from agriculture waste burning and emissions from factories, emissions from vehicles are one of the highest contributors to the polluted air that chokes the Indian citizen. The ever-increasing numbers of commercial vehicles and passenger cars, along with the increasing number of diesel fueled vehicles, all contribute to the increase in vehicle emissions from the transportation sector.

Damage in statistics –

  1. Out of 178 countries, India ranks 174 in the Environmental Preference Index.
  2. 13 of the most polluted 20 cities in the world were found to be in India.
  3. Annual death toll due to air pollution – 1.6 million.
  4. Out of the 25 lakh deaths related to pollution in 2015, nearly 20 lakh deaths were due to air pollution.

Doesn’t this scare you?

Though the country is now aware of this problem, no steps have been taken to reverse it. To make people aware of this unseen crisis, the ministry of environment and forests has launched a National Air Quality Index (AQI). It shows that India is at a major risk from the PM2.5 (particulate matter) which is let out by automobiles – the number of which has sharply increased due to quicker economic development, burning plants and the process of smelting and processing metals.

Also read: The Environmental Impact of Untreated Waste (or why do we have to swim to work during the rains)

The PM2.5 is extremely hazardous to not only the environment but also has adverse health effects on human life. Due to greater penetrability in the respiratory system, it eventually accumulates in the human body affecting the most vital organs – the lungs and the heart. Children aged 1 – 3 years are at an increased risk of asthma. Chronic lung diseases, changes in blood chemistry and an increased susceptibility are just a few of the health risks that come with the PM2.5.

Air pollution may be a known threat to people living in urban areas, but India’s rural population is just as affected due to the menace. The major source of rural air pollution in India stems from the burning of biomass –  burning of wood, crop residue or cow dung for cooking or heating.

Not only humans, but air pollution can also severely affect plants too. This damage can’t be undone. Apart from blocking out sunlight, the sulfur dioxide in toxic air converts to sulfuric acid, which eats holes in the leaves. Mottled spots due to ozone damage, silver leaf condition due to peroxyacyl nitrate and a stunted and slowed growth leave the plants defenseless against infestation and further damage.

How then do we control this beast? Planting trees is a good start, but trees do not have a filtration system for polluting particles. Governments must take comprehensive measures to ban vehicles that don’t use clean fuel, stop factories that don’t have filtration systems, restrict the open burning of biomass and fossil fuels while engaging in strict monitoring of lawbreakers to curb this hazard.

Also read: Monsoons & Mumbai: How Diseases Spread Due to Ineffective Sanitation

Plans may be set, but it is our individual implementation that will make these plans work. We must acknowledge that this crisis has gotten stronger than ever before. Sharing rides or using public transportation, reducing the number of car trips, eliminating wood stove use, avoiding burning trash and leaves are just some of the measures we can take to battle this danger.

To check the release of harmful pollutants into the air through vehicular pollution, the Indian government under the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989, has set norms for vehicular emissions and fuel quality that have to be followed all across India. Called the Bharat Stage (BS) norms, they were first implemented across the country in the year 2000. These norms lay down the permissible levels of pollutants that come out of the exhaust pipes of motor vehicles. The aim of the government, through these norms is to check air pollution and emissions that lead to global warming.

The BS II were enforced in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai & Kolkata in 2001. While in 2010, the rest of the country moved to Bharat Stage III, the Bharat Stage IV norms were implemented across 13 Metro cities. These were extended to an additional 20 cities October 2014 onwards.

The Auto Fuel Policy 2025 submitted to the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas drafted a document that laid down an emission and fuel road map for the country up to 2025. Currently only BS IV compliant vehicles can be manufactured, registered and sold in the country. This means that the fuel used has to be of superior quality and the to meet the BS IV norms the vehicles have to be better able to utilize this fuel.

We have the capacity to stop this deadly global warming. It’s just 12 years before we head to an uncontrollable doom. Let us take simple steps to a clean future. Let us Save the Planet.