It’s not fossil fuel: Coal, biomass and degraded land are main contributors to India’s air pollution

Synopsis: Instead of announcing various schemes, there is a need to understand the root cause behind increasing pollution.

Introduction

As air pollution became more prominent in Delhi, various political parties have made commitments and release action plans to solve this problem. Recently, the Union road transport minister promised to make Delhi free of air, water, and noise pollution in three years.

Delhi CM has also released a 10-point winter action plan. On the same lines, Environment Minister has unveiled plans for free distribution of bio-decomposer to control stubble burning.

What is the status of pollution in Delhi?

According to National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme, PM 2.5 levels have increased from 63 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) in 2012 to 141 μg/m3 in 2019. Although it has been dropped to 115 μg/m3 in 2020 due to Covid lockdowns, the PM 2.5 level is still nearly three times the national standards.

What were the steps taken by the government to address pollution?

The government took various initiatives to control the rise of pollution in Delhi. It has banned highly polluting industries and fuels, moved its public transport to CNG, closed power plants, imposed strict emissions norms on vehicles, restricted entry of heavy vehicles, experimented with odd-even, restricted gensets and distributed LPG cylinders etc. But in spite of all these, Delhi’s PM2.5 levels have more than doubled in the last decade.

What are the reasons behind the pollution in Delhi?

Pollution from neighboring states: Most of the pollution coming in Delhi is from its neigboring states like Haryana, Punjab, UP, Rajasthan.

Burning of fossil fuel, agriculture waste: In India, at least 85% of air pollution is generated from coal, biomass and garbage while petroleum products and gas contribute less than 15%.

In 2019, the country burnt 1,830 million tonnes (MT) of fossil fuels and biomass to meet its energy needs. In addition, about 100 MT of agriculture residues and 10-15 MT of garbage were burnt in the open.

Dust: Dust is the major contributor to PM 2.5. In Delhi, approx 20-30% of PM2.5 is attributed to dust generated from construction sites and roadsides and wind-blown dust from degraded lands in neighboring states.

What needs to be done?

The majority of the air pollution comes from the burning of coal or biomass and not petroleum products alone. So, the initiatives or the 10 point plan announced by the Delhi government to rid Delhi of pollution will, unfortunately, fail as it addresses only 15% of the problem. So, there is a need to focus on Coal and biomass to effectively tackle the issue.

Source: This post is based on the article “Its not fossil fuel: Coal, biomass and degraded land are main contributors to India’s air pollution” in Times of India on 16th October 2021.

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