For what might come as a breath of fresh air for Bengalureans quite literally, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) has stepped up to tackle air pollution in the city. A 44-point joint action plan has been approved by the Air Quality Monitoring Committee (AQMC) that was set up by the Karnataka government in response to a directive by the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
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In addition to Bengaluru, action plans have been created for Hubli-Dharwad, Davengere and Kalaburgi. These are the four ‘non-attainment cities’ in Karnataka, i.e., cities that do not meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
As per air quality monitoring data, Bengaluru’s pollution levels have been worsening. For example, data from 15 monitoring stations installed by the Healthy Air Coalition shows that the Air Quality Index (AQI) in these locations is high. AQI is measured in a scale of zero to 500; higher the AQI, worse the air pollution level and its health effects. Increasing pollution levels in the city have been contributing to growing number of cases of eye and skin allergies, asthma, respiratory and cardiovascular ailments.
Data from the Coalition’s monitors show that AQI in most locations fall in the category of ‘moderate’ and ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’. At the time of writing this article, the AQI at MS Ramaiah Layout City was 252, categorised as ‘Very Unhealthy’.
What is the action plan all about?
AQMC approved the action plan for Bengaluru this April. The committee is headed by the Principal Secretary of the Department of Forests, Ecology and Environment. Its other members include senior officials from transport and agriculture departments, KIADB (Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board), Directorate of Municipal Administration and the KSPCB (Karnataka State Pollution Control Board).
The action plan is now pending approval of the Central Pollution Control Board. The plan proposes measures to curb pollutants from various sources such as vehicles, construction, road dust, industries and garbage fire. Different government departments have been tasked with reducing pollution from different sources.
The plan comprises 17 long-term, 11 mid-term and 15 short-term proposals. There is also one proposal on monitoring of industries, which is mentioned as ‘ongoing’, without a specific timeframe.
Quite a few of these proposals are those that had been initiated much earlier. For instance, one of the proposals is to ban two-stroke vehicles, but the state Transport Department has long been trying to do this. At an annual performance briefing of the department this April, Transport Commissioner V P Ikkeri had retiriated that vehicles with two-stroke engines would be banned after March 2020.
However with the action plan, the authorities seem to venture into codification of initiatives of various departments, for sensitisation, capacity-building and deterring violators.
Following are the responsibilities of various government departments to combat pollution, as per the plan.
Transport Department: The department is responsible for reducing vehicle emissions. For this, it should:
- Restrict the use of two-stroke vehicles
- Monitor emissions on-road, with remote sensors for PUC (Pollution Under Control) certification
- Promote use of battery-operated vehicles
- Routinely calibrate the equipment in emission testing centres
- Retrofit particulate filters in diesel vehicles. These filters capture exhaust soot, and hence reduce emissions
- Launch drive against polluting vehicles
The plan document says that the department has already signed an MoU with Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiative Pvt Ltd and Clean Air Platform, to support on-road emission testing and retrofitting particulate filters in diesel vehicles.
Traffic police department: This department too is responsible for reducing vehicle emissions, and should:
- Carry out surveys to identify roads that are more prone to traffic congestion, to regulate traffic
- Enforce lane discipline
- Conduct awareness programs regarding air pollution control, vehicle maintenance etc
- Prevent and penalize the parking of vehicles in non-designated areas
- Increase the fine levied on vehicles that emit visible smoke
Traffic police department has requested KSPCB to take initiative to hold awareness campaigns, and has offered its support for these campaigns.
Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP)
- Deploy mechanical sweepers to remove dust on roads
- Initiate an action plan to fill potholes, to ensure smooth flow of traffic
- Relocate hawkers and vendors to their designated locations as per Street Vendor Act rather than letting them encroach footpaths
- Construct more multi-level parking facilities
- Create or approve a facility for re-processing C&D (construction and demolition) waste, and ensure that the vehicles that transport such waste are covered
- Suppress on-road dust by sprinkling treated water from BWSSB (Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board) over roads
- Implement the ban on burning solid waste in public
- Plant trees in public places and green open areas
- Create separate space to handle different kinds of waste in all wards and new BDA layouts
- Prepare a plan for road widening
- Plant specific native species that can absorb fine dust.
The document says that BBMP is purchasing 17 self-propelled sweeping machines this year, in addition to the ones it already has. A C&D plant is being set up in Kannur to manage construction and demolition waste.
Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board (KIADB)
- Earmark adequate land in industrial areas to establish truck terminals. Transport and Road Safety departments will then build the terminals.
Bangalore Development Authority (BDA)
- Black-topping metalled roads
- Add to the green cover of the city
- Establish truck terminals on major highways leading to Bengaluru
- Create separate bus bays
- Construct flyovers or underpasses to reduce traffic congestion
- Construct water fountains at traffic intersections to reduce air pollution and for aesthetic appearance.
Food And Civil Supplies department
- Prevent and penalise fuel adulteration
- Restrict the sale of unscientifically re-processed oil by street vendors
- Conduct periodical checks of petrol bunks and take action against violators
Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation(BMTC)
- Phase out BS-III vehicles and increase BS-IV fleet size
- Increase bus service to satellite bus stands and for last-mile connectivity, so that more people may use mass transport services rather than personal transport
- Carry out regular emission monitoring of BMTC and KSRTC buses, and ensure emission standards are met
- Introduce electric buses in a phased manner.
BMTC has invited Expression of Interest for 1500 electric buses and their charging stations over the next five years.
Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL)
- Finish Metro construction as per schedule
- Use mechanical suction vacuum cleaners to clean the roads and suppress dust where metro construction is ongoing
- Remove the C&D waste already dumped in lakes
Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC)
- Build satellite bus stands at all national highways leading to Bengaluru to reduce traffic congestion.
Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB)
- Conduct a source apportionment study (which would identify air pollution sources, and the extent to which each source contributes to a particular pollutant)
- Monitor air quality and publish AQI in KSPCB website
- Monitor industries regularly and take action against violators
The non-profit CSTEP (Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy) has signed an MoU with the Department of Ecology and Environment to do the source apportionment study for Bengaluru.
Department of Energy
- Make an action plan to ensure round-the-clock supply of power
Read the complete action plan here.
Will the plan make a difference?
The AQMC and KSPCB are positive that the plan would reduce air pollution. Speaking to The Hindu last month, Dr B Nagappa, Senior Environmental Officer at KSPCB, said, “These 44 action points are comprehensive, and will surely improve air pollution drastically if implemented in full.”
However, this is not the first time KSPCB is setting up an expert committee to address air pollution. As per a report in Deccan Herald, three other committees had been set up over the past 11 years to tackle air pollution in the city, but were rendered ineffective.
These committees had suggested measures like regulating heavy-vehicle traffic within the city, restricting vehicle registration etc. Speaking to Deccan Herald, a senior KSPCB official had said, “Our powers are limited to issuing notices, and directing government agencies like the Transport Department to initiate action. The Board does not have enforcement powers.”
In effect, the new 44-point plan only replaces another 14-point plan that was drafted for the city, following High Court orders in 2009.
In her recent article in Citizen Matters, independent researcher Bhargavi S Rao had pointed out that the action plan relied too much on new technologies, with no strategy to improve implementation on the ground. She also pointed out that the plan promoted road widening, multi-level car parking etc that are known to increase vehicle numbers, and that the entire plan was developed without public consultations. Bengaluru’s vehicle numbers had crossed 80 lakh quite recently.
Aishwarya Sudhir, Air Quality and Health Programme Lead at the non-profit HEAL (Health and Environment Alliance), said that the action plan was an ambitious list of initiatives with multiple agencies involved, who would be required to communicate regularly.
“The Ministry of Environment and KSPCB should clarify the exact nature and the functioning of AQMC and who they are accountable to. It is important to have a nodal agency to ensure periodic progress and fix time-bound accountability on the authorities involved, else the whole plan becomes redundant,” Aishwarya said.
She also questioned why the health sector was not involved in the plan. “Health experts have a crucial role in letting the public know how ambient air quality affects health. Health advisories, that can help minimise personal exposure levels, are absent in the plan,” Aishwarya said.
Whether the action plan can tangibly reduce pollution levels in the next few years, remains to be seen.