Air Pollution: No Man’s Land, Nikhil Jain

 Nikhil jain

Its 10:30 AM. The sunshine is at its romantic best, subtle to just announce the augmentation of early winter’s. Trees are lined up on the street, just standing there. You can only sense life in them just because it’s overwhelmed by the millions of green leaves.

However, you can sense that everything is not alright. There is a layer of dirt accumulated on those countless leaves robbing the sheen of its lush green cover. This is where you become aware that you are in Delhi, which though was the 4th most polluted city in the world almost a decade ago and now ranked 11th as per WHO – not because of improvement but because other cities like Gwalior, Allahabad, Patna, Raipur are found to be even worse polluter than Delhi (once monitoring started in these cities).

Zabol in Iran, located on the border of Afghanistan is ranked worst polluter in the world. Not because of vehicular pollution or coal burning, but due to its famous 120 days sandstorms during summer months which carries the fine dust. Contrary to its ranking, I would say “Zabol” is still not the worst polluter – Gwalior is. Gwalior, ranked as 2nd is the worst polluter because

  • of the presence of vikrams (autos) running on diesel
  • many of the industrial area are present inside the city limits itself

In India, the primary reasons for the air pollution could easily be attributed to either burning of coal (in power plants, industrial plants etc) to fossil fuel (vehicular pollution) or biomass burning. In any of the cities, the composition would vary; but the prime contributor would still remain these elements only.

Post harvesting, after every season, almost 5-6 ton / hectare of dry mass remains. The irony here is every farmer is aware that if he ploughs back 30-40% of stubble, the land gets back its:

  • Nutrients
  • Carbon
  • Soil microbes and fauna gets activated
  • Soil erosion is contained
  • Soil alkanity is maintained over the period of time

However he still burns; because :

  • He isn’t the actual landowner and has taken land on lease
  • His income can’t even support him to spend ₹5,000 per hectare to plough the stubble back into the earth
  • This leads to the burning which is the easiest, cheapest and quickest of them all
  • Burning also helps in weed, insect and disease removal
  • May be a power producing plant can use the stubble, but there is dearth of them, as stubble is only seasonal
  • Similarly the list is non exhaustive for fossil fuel burning.

Fossil fuel burning

Similarly the list is non exhaustive for fossil fuel burning.

So how does the issues get resolved?

The government simply bans anything and everything associated with it without even having the need to understand that the issue is more cultural in nature rather than that of choice. Since independence, the dependence of India’s economic growth has been concentrated around the metro cities with Delhi and Mumbai being the fulcrum of it and Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore the late but firm starter in this trend.

  • With the economic growth of the country rural population begins to transform into urban
  • These five centres of the growth is still the natural choice for people to migrate
  • As the density of the population begins to increase, it results in demand for more:
  • Vehicles, which run on fossil fuels
  • Energy, which again is right now produced majorly from burning of fossil fuel; so more and more power plants start getting built up near these cities
  • More requirement for water, which starts depleting the groundwater resources

Fossil fuel burning

Rather than only 5 growth centers, which has become white elephants what if we have 100 growth centers, which spreads out the consumption of the resource all over the country rather than at only few pockets. It would benefit in:

  • Smaller and economically sustainable city; so that people don’t have to travel far to earn their livelihood. As the travel time reduces, need to burn fossil fuel also reduces.
  • With the energy consumption now spread out over the larger areas, it also provides an opportunity for a mix of clean and renewable energy sources. The solar plant can be next to this urban centre rather than thousands of KM away.
  • Farming would get exposed to much more lucrative economic prosperity and would leave them to use:
  • Much more environmental friendly farming
  • Greater mix of local seasonal crops which consumes lesser water as compared to basmati produced for city population thousands of KM away and also replenishes the essential minerals required for the next crop cycle
  • This further produces lesser stubble and whatever gets produced gets easily utilizable

Smart city plan

With advent of 100 SMART cities, it may still take a decade more before the AQI shows significant improvement. However, we can still do a lot to address the current situation:

  1. All the RWA’s taking the health of their respective communities upon themselves and setting up composting pits in their area so that the biomass / leaves are not burnt
  2. Setting up of passive treatment plants which utilises the waste water generated by the households and then utilise this water for:
  • Irrigation in the parks and green belt surrounding the locality
  • Sprinkling on the roads so that the dust is settled and PM10 is contained a bit
  • Provide this recycled water to construction sites on chargeable but lesser cost as compared to fresh tankers. This would generate the revenue for RWA’s, prevent exploitation of groundwater would also helps the dust mitigation at construction sites
  • Encourage the residents to grow vegetables in the community parks by employing vertical farming and at the same time utilising recycled water for it
  • Utilising the expertise of the farmer nearby cities to grow and hire them by paying them a fixed monthly remuneration
  • This would not only expose them to efficient and newer technologies but also be connected to a ready market where they can bring the produce from their farmland directly, thus avoiding the middlemen

Tulsi min

What can be done on individual basis:

     3. Keep your doors and windows open so as to have reasonable amount of ventilation always, which would not flare up the PM2.5 level indoors

     4. Just remove the carpet, it’s a major source of PM2.5 and PM10
     5. Don’t utilise room fresheners so often, they increase the level of VoC’s (Volatile Organic Compound) in the room
     6. Avoid sitting next to printers, copiers as the inks used in them also emit VoC’s

     7. There are couple of plants available which are shade loving and reduces air pollutants. It creates a nice ambience            and makes you healthy as well.

  • Spider Plant: Removes Carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and xylene
  • Snake Plant / Mother in Law’s tongue: Removes: benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and xylene
  • Bamboo Palm: Removes: benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene
  • Aloe Vera: Remove formaldehyde
  • Areca Palm: Removes xylene and toluene
  • English Ivy: Removes air borne fecal particle and formaldehyde
  • Indian Basil / Tulsi: Removes CO2, produces Oxygen

Most of the above mentioned plants are pet friendly but care should be taken with indoor plants when you are having infants at home.

Nature has already provided us the solution for all the modern issues. It’s high time for us to start trusting it and having faith in entire natural system; at the same time stop abusing the natural resources by keeping things simple, small and manageable.

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