This article is part of a special series: Air Quality in our Cities
The drastic rise in air pollution levels in Indian cities over the years has been a cause of extreme concern, especially after the World Health Organization (WHO) pointed out that several Indian cities were part of the top 20 most polluted cities in terms of PM 2.5 levels.
As part of a recent study by Aishwarya Sudhir ( supported by Co-Media Lab and Climate Trends), titled Bengaluru’s rising Air Quality Crisis, air pollution levels were tested for PM 2.5 (atmospheric particulate matter with diameter less that 2.5 micrometers) and PM 10 (diameter less that 10 micrometers) levels during peak hours at various points along the Banashankari-Marathahalli route in Bengaluru. At several points on the stretch, the PM 2.5 and PM 10 levels were found to exceed the daily national ambient air quality standard of 60 µg/m3 and 100 µg/m3 (micro grams per cubic meter; a measure of air pollution concentration) respectively.
The study points to transport as the largest source of PM 2.5 emissions followed by dust and burning of garbage. An independent study by Urban Emissions points out that even though the annual average level of PM 2.5 in the city (36.5 +/- 9.0 µg/m3) is less than the national standard, it is three times that of the WHO-prescribed standards.
Similarly, based on the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board data for the year 2017-18, the annual average PM 10 levels in the city is 60 µg/m3, which is three times higher that the WHO prescribed limit of 20 µg/m3. The national standards set by the Central Pollution Control Board are much higher than that prescribed by WHO.
To address the rising pollution concerns in the city, Bengaluru along with London in 2017 had initiated C40s Air Quality Network, chaired by the Mayors of both cities. And in the month of July 2018, Bengaluru hosted the inaugural meeting of C40 Air Quality Network which saw the participation of 14 cities worldwide. The aim of the network led by Bengaluru and London is to allow for sharing of ideas and information to develop plans which will help cities clean up their toxic air.
This network builds on the previous work done by C40 cities , which consists of 96 mega cities sharing the aim to collaborate and deliver the most ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement at the local level. Being a part of the Air Quality Network BBMP will receive a grant of 20 crore rupees to install 1000 air monitoring sensors in the city.
While these initiatives are being taken, there continues to be several concerns over rising air pollution levels, especially vehicular emissions which is the highest contributor.
Vehicular emissions continue to affect pollution
There has been an exponential increase in the number of registered vehicles in Bengaluru, over the years with the official data at 73 lakh as of January 2018. Out of these, 50 lakh vehicles are two wheelers, and four wheelers constitute 14 lakhs.
In a recent study by the Centre for Science and Environment, Bengaluru ranked third when compared to 14 other metropolitan cities in India in terms of overall aggregated emission and energy use from urban commute, and also third in terms of per capita travel emissions and energy use.
The study points to Bengaluru and Chennai having the highest annual growth rate for vehicles in the country, though Delhi has a much higher aggregate emission and energy use because of its high population. The study points to the eroding usage of public transportation across cities in India, identifying several reasons for it including high taxation of public transport, the minimum costs of bus fares being higher that two-wheeler operational costs, lack of last mile connectivity etc.
There are currently several challenges in the city of Bengaluru to ensure that vehicle owners follow due process and get their vehicles tested regularly for emission levels. While the transport department officials inspect vehicle owners at random for emission certificates, the lack of adequate number of officials is a concern. The Department in its database has the emission details of vehicles, but currently there is no system to ensure that vehicle owners are penalised for not testing their vehicular emission levels on time. Reports have pointed to the large number of vehicles which ply in the city that violate emission norms.
The National Urban Transportation Policy (formulated in 2006 revised in 2014), with its focus on moving people rather than moving vehicles, aims to bring about a shift against usage of private vehicles and towards mass public transport systems.
Improvements in mass public transport systems, especially bus-based transportation, have been advocated by NITI Ayog , independent researchers and civil society groups such as Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike among others as a sustainable solution to reduce usage of private vehicles. This is expected to address several transportation woes, such as congestion and effects of emission experienced by commuters in Bengaluru and other cities in India.
The state government’s recent decision to implement the Elevated Corridor Project spanning over 90 kilometres across the city, has met with strong resistance from activists for being undemocratic in nature. The unsustainable nature of the project would only encourage more private vehicles on the road without solving any of the problems that exist, point out researchers and activists.
Improving rail networks within the city has been advocated by the group Citizens for Bengaluru, as a sustainable intervention compared to initiatives that would involve building flyovers/corridors.
Concerns about increase in private vehicles and rising air pollution levels still remain, even after 12 years of the National Urban Transportation Policy. Bengaluru joining the C40 Air Quality Network hasn’t been able to make a serious dent in the policy level. In a series of articles to follow, we will examine in detail the root causes of air pollution, and the efforts taken by the government and civil society in curbing it.
|This article is part of a special series: Air Quality in our Cities, and explores the root causes for air pollution and solutions for improving air quality in Bengaluru and Chennai. This series has supported with a grant from Climate Trends.