Maharashtra, which is the second-most populous sub-national state on earth and in India, needs a campaign mode approach to successfully tackle its air pollution crisis – this was the primary conclusion of a new report published by Climate Trends. The report, titled ‘Unknown Hurdles to a Trillion Dollar Economy: Solving Air Pollution in Maharashtra’, was released today during a discussion attended by eminent experts including the Head of NEERI, Dr Rakesh Kumar, member of the core committee for the implementation of National Clean Air Plan, Prof S.N.Tripathi from IIT-Kanpur, and Dr Sundeep Salvi of Chest Research Foundation. While the report acknowledges steps taken by the current government to tackle Maharashtra’s, and mainly Mumbai’s, deeply polluted air, it put forth several solutions to fill the gaping holes in government initiatives in order to achieve the National Clean Air Plan’s (NCAP) aim of 20-30% reduction in PM2.5 and PM10 by 2024 in 18 polluted cities of Maharashtra.
Addressing concerns about the lack of an action plan to tackle Mumbai’s polluted air, V M Motghare, Joint Director, Air Control Unit from Maharashtra Pollution Control Board offered some clarity during the release of the report- “The air quality plan for Mumbai has been principally approved, though after due modifications, within seven days, the plans are expected to be fully and finally approved by the CPCB.’’ He further added, “We aim to be on track for ‘Deliver clean air by 2022’ mission. MPCB has been leading the way in monitoring and transparency for industrial emissions. In partnership with the Star Rating programme, MPCB has expanded to monitoring 414 industries across 10 sectors since 2017 and targets to expand to 900 industries, further including small and medium scale industries to bring in a wider net of sectors.”
With the help of recent studies, the report first identified the main sources of pollutants in Maharashtra’s air – industry, biomass, aviation, shipping, windblown dust and open burning caused 50% of the pollution, followed by vehicles at 30% and construction and demolition dust at 20%. It pointed out some startling facts about the sources – such as the number of vehicles in Maharashtra had risen by over 11,000% in less than fifty years, over 15,000 clamp brick kilns in the state were yet to be assessed for pollution levels and real estate developers will be permitted to build in green belts, which would mean more emissions from construction even in tribal areas. Another critical factor for Maharashtra’s rising pollution levels, the study states, was that the Western Ghats divided the state into two parts, thereby not allowing air pollution to dissipate.
“As one of the most industrialised and urbanised states in the country, Maharashtra is beginning to reflect the paradoxes of development. Focus on industrial clusters, and obtaining a positive response from the industry is crucial for keeping emissions in check. Keeping an eye on source-specific mitigation strategies and ensuring inter-departmental coordination will play a crucial role in the achievement of NCAP goals which must be the aspiration for state agencies,” said S N Tripathi, a professor at IIT-Kanpur and a member of the NCAP core committee during the discussion.
The study singled out the state’s capital Mumbai in particular, and pointed to an IITM paper, which stated that even though Delhi had the highest level of particulate matter, the percentage share of PM 2.5 in PM 10 was highest for Mumbai (60%) and not Delhi (50%). What is worrying about this is that PM 2.5 is most damaging and toxic, therefore the air pollution in the financial capital is more dangerous even if Delhi’s air is more polluted.
So where is the state government, which has been taking some steps to tackle the crisis, going wrong? According to the study, Maharashtra has 101 air pollution monitoring stations, of which only 25% are continuous. The state, however, needs 308 continuous monitoring stations that meet CPCB guidelines and present real-time data accurately. Another challenge that the government needs to overcome is thermal coal power plants’ failure to adhere to norms and meet timelines. This is crucial considering the TPPs in Maharashtra’s Chandrapur and Koradi are major SO2 hotspots in the country. The MPCB’s star rating programme does provide some hope in tackling industrial pollution, according to the study. While the programme will leave 95% of the industry out of its scope, it will cover 900 highly polluting industries, which can be used as a precedent to encourage transparency and action from the wider industrial community in the state, the study says.
Apart from suggesting steps to remedy initiatives already undertaken by the government, the study also proposes an additional set of reforms that could vastly improve air quality governance. Some of these include incentivising decentralised RE through feed-in-tariffs, smart grids, micro grids and tax benefits to divert from fossil energy, making real-world emissions of diesel vehicles a part of pollution checks, creating winter and emergency response plans along the lines of Delhi’s GRAP and bringing innovative air-filtering equipment into the mainstream such as the Pariyayantra air filter unit designed by researchers from Manav Rachna Educational Institutions. It can be mounted on the roof of any vehicles, and during experiments, trapped 98% of particulate matter. “We have cleaned up our fuel and there’s been a sea-change from the early 90s in terms of fuel standardisation, esp with regards to the two wheeler standards in India being one of the strictest in the world. But we do need to focus on our urban planning to reduce emissions due to unplanned pedestrian movement, traffic snarls and poor parking infrastructure,” opined Rakesh Kumar, Director at the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI).
The economy of Beijing, the capital of China, the most populous country in the world, has managed to grow over 10 times with 6.5% GDP growth each year over 20 years, while reducing PM pollution by over 50% in last quarter of 2017. This was mainly achieved because China strengthened its local level monitoring and governance agencies to regulate and implement anti-pollution policies. Surely, Mumbai, Maharashtra and the rest of India can do it, too?