Smoke and mirrors: The Centre is reportedly deliberating setting up a permanent authority to keep air pollution in the National Capital Region in check | Photo: The Hindu

Centre brings new ordinance to tackle air pollution in the NCR

The Indian government today passed the “The Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Area Ordinance” to control air pollution in the Delhi-NCR region. The move comes days after the Centre informed the Supreme Court that it was planning to bring a new law to install a permanent authority to check air pollution in the National Capital Region (NCR). Following this, the top court suspended the orders to authorise retired judge Madan Lokur to oversee the issue. 

The new commission will effectively replace the 22-year-old Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) which currently oversees air pollution control measures and strategies in the region. According to the notification published by the environment ministry, the commission will have appropriate powers which can act against air pollution on a war footing and will coordinate with the NCR states and central government. The commission is to have members from all NCR states and the Central Pollution Control Board; from associated ministries like petroleum and natural gas, agriculture, commerce etc. While the statutory body has powers to enforce various environmental laws, it will function completely under the aegis of the central government.

Meanwhile, farm fires in Punjab and Haryana reached new peaks (1,619 fires on Sunday). Experts said the new law could be binding on states. But what if the states refuse to implement the law? Earlier, statutory orders under the Air Act by CPCB were also not implemented by state governments.

Less than half of NCAP cities have PM2.5 monitors, reveals new air quality dashboard

A week after the State of Global Air 2020 revealed that India had faced the highest exposure to toxic air in the world last year, a new dashboard now delves deeper into Indian states’ and cities’ air pollution mitigation efforts. According to data compiled across 23 states and 122 cities featured in India’s National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), Delhi, unsurprisingly ranked as the most polluted state on average PM10 monitoring data from 2016 to 2018. Meanwhile, out of the 23 states listed in the NCAP with non-attainment cities, only 3 states, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh and Punjab, accounted for above average readings for all 3 years of PM10 monitoring.

Following Delhi as the worst-ranked state in terms of PM10 pollution are Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh. As for cities, Ghaziabad topped with the worst PM10 level average across 3 years at 253, followed by Delhi at 246 and Dhanbad at 242. Dehradun ranked 4th, followed by Bareilly, Lucknow, Firozabad, Silchar, Noida and Kanpur. In terms of PM2.5 levels, Noida ranked the worst with 119 µg/m3, followed by Agra, Delhi, Lucknow, Ghaziabad, Muzzaffarpur, Kanpur, Chandigarh, Howrah and Kolkata at 10th.

Despite expansions in the country’s air pollution monitoring network, data is still scarce, especially with regards to PM2.5 levels. Out of 23 states listed under the NCAP, only 17 states had any PM2.5 manual data monitoring available from 2016-2018. Of the 122 NCAP cities, only 59 had PM2.5 data available at all.

World’s worst PM2.5 levels recorded in India in 2019

Exposure to PM2.5 is the highest in the world in India, according to the State of Global Air 2020 (Soga 2020) report. India was followed by Nepal, Niger, Qatar and Nigeria in exposure to PM 2.5, particulate matter with diameters that are generally 2.5 microns, or about 30 times smaller than a strand of human hair.

It’s the 10th consecutive year India has recorded an increase in PM 2.5 pollution, the report stated. In 2019, the Central Pollution Control Board had said India’s average PM2.5 levels had been rising in the past three years because of the rising number of vehicles and re-suspension of natural dust. According to the 2019 World Air Quality Report by IQAir AirVisual, Two-thirds of the most polluted cities, or 21 out of 30, are in India, and Delhi has the worst air among all national capitals.

China shows ‘significant’ improvement in PM2.5 levels: Report

The State of Global Air 2020 report shows decreasing levels of PM2.5 in China, which did not figure among the ten countries with the highest per capita PM 2.5 exposure in the world. China is now among the top 30 countries for pollution exposure. Due to demographic factors, China recorded 1.42 million premature deaths attributed to PM 2.5 exposure, compared to 980,000 in India in 2019. China showed significant improvement in air quality in the past five to seven years. The average annual PM 2.5 concentrations in China ranged from 45 to 75 micrograms per cubic metres in 2019 compared to 75 to over 85 micrograms per cubic metres in India.

Outdoor PM2.5 levels in China dropped by 30% because of policy actions over five to seven years, including a shift from coal to gas in residential and industrial sectors and a reduction in industrial emissions, according to the report. Experts point out that China’s national action plan is based on a monitoring network of approximately 1,500 air quality stations providing real-time data, and that enforcing industrial emission standards is included in the job appraisal of government officials.

Air pollution killed half a million infants worldwide last year: Study

Half a million infants died last year of air pollution mostly in the developing world according to the global data on deaths cited by the State of Global Air Report 2020. ( ). Medical experts are in the early stages to understand the deadly toll on babies in the womb. Katherine Walker, the principal scientist of the report, told the Guardian that babies across multiple countries are being born with low birth weight, who are more susceptible to childhood infections and pneumonia. The lungs of preterm babies also fail to be fully developed, the research said.

Experts also point out that the indoor pollution in India, Africa and Southeast Asia is equivalent to that of 150 year ago, Victorian London.  The State of Global Air Report 2020 is published by the Health Effects Institute, an independent nonprofit research organisation supported by the US Environmental Protection Agency and others.

H-CNG buses that run on hydrogen spiked CNG launched in national capital

Delhi got its first hydrogen-blended CNG buses, which emits as less as BS VI grade fuel from lower category engines. Indian Oil Corp (IOC) R&D Centre has developed the patented compact reforming process for H-CNG production directly from natural gas. The CNG was spiked with 18% hydrogen for the pilot run. 

H-CNG emits 70% carbon monoxide and is 25% lower hydrocarbon emissions in heavy-duty BS-IV engines as compared to baseline CNG, according to a statement by IOC. Power minister Dharmendra Pradhan said Rs4 lakh crore investment is underway to transform India into a gas-based economy. Government’s trial of HCNG on 50 buses will be a major breakthrough in India’s journey towards the hydrogen economy, he said.

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