Photo credit: NYT

Ministers deny link between air pollution and deaths, discredit own govt’s study

In what is seen as a sustained attempt to deny prevalence of air pollution deaths, India’s environment minister Prakash Javadekar, last week, told the Parliament there was no Indian study that linked air pollution with shortening of lifespan, contradicting his own government’s 2018 study. Earlier in the week, minister of state for environment Babul Supriyo also had told the Upper House that there was no “conclusive data” to link air pollution with deaths. Researchers from over 50 well-respected institutes from India and abroad had conducted the study. It was released by ICMR in the presence of senior officials of the health ministry on December 6, 2018. Experts point out that the study not just talked about life expectancy, but also provided death rates attributable to air pollution. Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Haryana recorded the highest number of deaths attributable to air pollution, according to the study. Earlier, Javedekar’s predecessor Harsh Vardhan, who is now the country’s health minister, had also issued the same denial. In 2018, a WHO study said more than 60,000 children under five and over 4,000 children between 5-14 years died due to air pollution in 2016. Another research carried out by experts from the US and Canada had revealed that air pollution in Delhi was responsible for approximately 10,000 to 30,000 deaths annually.

Health vs emissions? Centre’s pollution control devices for coal plants will add to CO2 emissions 

Could retrofitting polluting coal plants in India with clean technology increase CO2 emissions instead? That’s the conclusion of the latest analyses by the US Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA study said that government mandated devices to reduce deadly sulphur-dioxide (SO2) pollution, could also increase CO2 emissions. Experts say it could turn into a “trade-off” between health impacts versus global warming. Experts also point out that it would also impede India’s target of reducing emissions by a third by 2030. However, scientists say it is important to curb SO2 emissions as it damages crops and human health, but the scale of resultant CO2 emissions from the pollution devices may be too little to cause worry.

NASA data says crop burning in Haryana, Punjab, UP fallen by 50% since 2016

The government may be blaming paddy farmers burning crop residue for air pollution in north India, but NASA satellite data revealed that over the past four years, stubble burning incidents have fallen by a huge 50%. NASA fire maps between 2016 and 2019 show that in the three states of Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, the incidents have come down by half. In Haryana, there was a drop of around 55% and in UP the fall has been 53% since 2016. The states have banned stubble burning, but have not been able to stop the practice completely. Opposition MLAs from the Aam Aadmi Party in Punjab demanded withdrawal of cases registered against farmers for crop burning saying that the cases were dictatorial and one-sided and the state and central governments were equally responsible for the sorry state of affairs.

Top court relaxes ban on construction in Delhi, pollution three times more in Kanpur, Lucknow

The longest construction ban to curb air pollution during winter has been partially lifted in Delhi by the Supreme Court. The ban was imposed under the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP). Even though the air quality index remains ‘very poor’, the court has allowed construction during the day time between 6am to 6pm. The top court had banned all construction activities on November 4, after the air quality reached emergency levels on November 3. 

Meanwhile, the wealthier South Delhi Municipal Corporation deployed more resources to fight air pollution – 55 vehicles to fight dirty air, including 6 mechanical road sweepers, 17 water-sprinkling tankers, 2 super sucker machines and 26 CNG trucks.

But away from the media glare, other big cities such as Lucknow and Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh have been silently battling air pollution far greater than Delhi. The air quality in Lucknow was three times worse than Delhi, according to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data. The Air Quality Index (AQI) of Lucknow on Tuesday was 374 and that of Kanpur was 379, while the AQI in Delhi was 106, the data showed.

Bushfire: Sydney air quality 12 times over ‘hazardous’ limit

The Sydney Opera House was unrecognisable under a thick blanket of poisonous bush-fire smoke that breached the ‘hazardous’ air quality threshold of 200,  twelve times higher with some parts of the city touching as high as 2,552. The smoke was bad enough to set off fire alarms inside office buildings and delay flights by 30 minutes because of poor visibility. The city known for clear horizons and blue skies is lately witnessing people wearing masks, and officially declared off limits for people with respiratory problems. 

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