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Public-Private Partnership in reducing air pollution

08-Oct-2021Charan Singh

Air pollution has become a common phenomenon in cities, urban areas, and metropolitans. The contamination of air by dust and pollutants happens because of vehicle emissions, fuel oils and natural gas, by-products of manufacturing and power generation, particularly coal-fueled power plants, and fumes from chemical production.

Heavy Cost of Air Pollution

Air pollution is a cause of respiratory health problems like asthma, difficulty in breathing, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic bronchitis. In addition, air pollution has also become the cause of cardiovascular disease; diabetes mellitus; obesity; and reproductive, neurological, and immune system disorders. According to the State of Global Air, 2020, a report on global exposure to air pollution, released by Health Effects Institute (HEI), air pollution is the biggest health risk in India. Long-term exposure to outdoor and household air pollution contributed to over 1.67 million annual deaths from stroke, heart attack, diabetes, lung cancer, chronic lung diseases, and neonatal diseases, in India in 2019. Of the total deaths and disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) attributable to air pollution in India in 2017, the largest proportions were from lower respiratory infections (29·3%), chronic obstructive pul­monary disease (29·2%), and ischemic heart disease (23·8%), followed by stroke (7·5%), diabetes (6·9%), lung cancer (1·8%), and cataract (1·5%). Another source of economic costs is that approximately 350,000 new cases of child asthma each year are linked to nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a by-product of fossil fuel combustion. The report by environment organisation Greenpeace Southeast Asia with inputs from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air suggests that an estimated one million deaths each year and approximately 980,000 estimated pre-term births, equating to an annual economic loss of Rs 10.7 lakh crore is attributed to air pollution from fossil fuel in India.

Air pollution takes its toll on the economy in several ways: it costs human lives, it reduces people’s ability to work, it affects vital products like food, it damages cultural and historical monuments, it reduces the ability of ecosystems to perform functions societies need and it costs money in remediation or restoration. Air pollution is also a burden on the individual in terms of sickness, treatment and out of labor force. For the country, sick labor force records lower productivity.

To tackle air pollution, the Delhi government installed and inaugurated its first smog tower in Connaught Place. The set up is worth Rs 20 crore and will purify air in a 1-km radius around the structure, at a rate of around 1,000 cubic metres of air per second. Though the smog tower initiative is a positive step in the controlling air pollution the high cost of these machines is a major drawback for the state exchequer.

The need is that the Government and citizens both contribute in maintaining healthy quality of air.

Covid and Air pollution

In the recent past, because of COVID, people have been confined mostly to their homes. Even while traveling they have used masks. Eventually, pollution levels in the cities, urban areas, especially metropolitans have come down. The air is cleaner in general; also flora and fauna have bloomed. Birds which rarely visited the cities have started coming again, specially the sparrows. The mask has also helped in breathing safe air and to some extent breathing of polluted air. Consequence of this is that people are healthier and environment-friendly. With the opening up of the society and the economy, it is expected normalisation of traffic would resume.

Suggestions

Here are a few thoughts to control pollution –

  1. To practice wearing masks it may help in reducing the disease of the respiratory organs.

  2. To depend on public transport or other modes of transport which are least polluting, including bicycling for commuting can help in keeping the levels of pollution in metropolitans and cities low.

  3. Heavy Subsidy on Electric Vehicles: The hybrid cars have started but not yet are in the reach of the common man. If electric cars and vehicles are increasingly popular, that can help in reducing disease related to air pollution. The government can consider providing substantial subsidies to electric vehicles so that they can be afforded by normal individuals and not only by rich individuals.

  4. Greening the city: It is in the interest of everyone that pollution is kept under control. There is the risk of dust pollution, which immediately impacts the respiratory system. As we are aware India has plains and areas where dust storms are common throughout the year. It would be helpful if efforts are made especially in urban areas to ensure that dust pollution is minimized. The easiest way of controlling dust pollution is growing green vegetation, even simple grass in places where cementing is not possible. If every household and every business house adopts this idea to green the area around their office or house, to some extent we can control dust pollution. In this context, efforts by local industrialists and Municipal Corporations in educating the residences about the benefits of green zones, grass and vegetation on the ground can be helpful. The local administration in different cities can adopt different incentive schemes to ensure that greening which will lead to beautification is adopted. The industrial houses can also adopt different cities / local areas to green and grass the place.

  5. Industrial Pollution – Popular devices: In the United States, scrubber systems are used as air pollution control devices that remove harmful particles, gases, or chemical by-products from industrial exhaust streams. They are relatively new but are now made compulsory by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Air scrubbers, also called wet scrubbers or gas scrubbers, are also capable of handling flammable and explosive gases safely. “Wet” scrubber systems use water or some type of liquid to collect harmful substances from the exhaust air. “Dry” scrubber systems, on the other hand, use specific chemicals that target, absorb, and dissolve hazardous materials in the exhaust. For particulate control, other devices such as electrostatic precipitators, cyclone separators, and fabric filters are widely used.

  6. Stubble Burning: Pusa Decomposer Capsules, developed by Pusa Institute, are being used. Australia practices stubble retention technique where seeds can be planted without removal of stubble. This technique has many advantages- it protects soil from erosion, aids soil moisture storage, through better infiltration and reduced surface run-off and lower evaporation rates. The ground cover offered by stubble may also help maintain soil structure by increasing soil microbial activity. Further, China, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, Nigeria and even Nepal use the stubble and other crop residues to produce bio-energy and compost. The residues are also used as animal feed, composting, and even for mushroom cultivation. There are few countries that produce electricity from biomass, using these crop residues. Rice straw or stubble is also used to produce bio-ethanol which also ensures additional income for growers.

  7. Construction Activity - Fabric filters: In India a large expenditure is being incurred on infrastructure and construction. It will be useful is fabric filters and other measures are introduced to contain dust pollution

  8. Crackers and Celebrations: In India, we celebrate festivals and personal events like birthdays, marriages, etc. with lots of crackers, which pollute the air immensely and not only impact human beings but also plants, birds and animals. It would be useful if all the celebrations social, religious and personal are without any crackers. Alternatively, as in the Western World, crackers are burst for a limited time in a very limited quantity, preferably green crackers, in public place where the whole city gets together and celebrates. If social and religious festivals are helpful in educating the people that crackers are polluting and celebrations can be done without crackers, it will help reduce air pollution significantly. In this, local leaders, religious heads, and local intellectuals can be a big help. The festival season is about to begin. Of all religions, there are events that will happen between September and April. It will be helpful if cracker bursting is disconnected from celebrations.