Cricket emission levels and smokescreens

A new study shows it is not just English cricketers who are manipulatin4data for their benefit - the ministry of environment, too, is playing a similar game.

By Anupam Goswami
Published: Monday 15 March 1993

Cricket emission levels and smokescreens

-- AFTER the English cricket team lost the first Test match against. India in Calcutta last month, it resorted to "smogscreens" to defend its performance. The ball was figuratively set rolling by Ted Dexter, chairman of the English cricket selection committee, who reportedly blamed the defeat on ecological problems in the city. Dexter declared, "The lads have said it is difficult to play when, you can taste the fog" and went on to announce he had commissioned a report on pollution levels in Indian cities.

The allegation evoked an indignant response from the Union ministry of environment and forests (MEF). Environment minister Kamal Nath contended the English selector's statement was not quite cricket. With unbureaucratic. speed, the MEF released figures on pollution levels in Indian cities. Some newspapers published the MEF data that showed, contrary to the belief of veteran English cricketers, the air over many of India's cricket centres had not changed in recent years.

However, MEF officials may be guilty of playing with figures. Their data differs quite starkly from estimates in a study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). The report, Urban Pollution in Megacities of the World, shows the atmosphere in many Indian cities is far worse than the MEF would concede. The MEF spokesperson countered by saying the published figures attributed to it in Indian newspapers were a year old.

MEF officials admit the UNEP- WHO report is based ori two systematic and ongoing surveys of urban air pollution in the country - the National Air Quality Monitoring Network of the National Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) at Nagpur, and the National Ambient Air Pollution Quality Monitoring (NAAQM) of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in Delhi. Interestingly, while the UNEP-WHO report argues NAAQM's findings "are of little use in comparison with the data from NEERI ...... the MEF's estimates are much lower than those of the CPCB.

Ironically, the report's projection of Calcutta's pollution levels for 2000 counters the impression once created by the late Rajiv Gandhi that Calcutta was a dying city. The report says industrial emissions in Calcutta have "stabilised in recent years and are projected to remain constant, or may even decline over the next 10 years. "

However, UNEP's estimates are several times higher than those of MEF. The report.suggests coal-burning power plants and other industries in Calcutta release 200,000 tonnes of suspended particulate matter (SPM) - the highest in India. On the other hand, data released by MEF claims SPM in Calcutta amounts to only 2.71 tonnes a day, or about 1,000 tonnes annually.

The UNEP-WHO report says the extraordinarily heavy SPM emission is due to the extremely high ash content - upto 30 per cent - in the coal used by Calcutta's industries. However, sulphur dioxide emissions in the city are shown in the UNEP- WHO report as being well bellow WHO norms and attributes it surprisingly to the extremely low sulphur content of the coal burnt.

However, Bombay, the venue of the third and final Test match between India and England, is less M'rtunate in this respect. Bombay is burdened by sulphur dioxide emissions of nearly 157,000 tonnes a year (1,250 tonnes, according to MEF) partly due to its role as the country's leading commercial port. Ships burning furnace oil with high sulphur content account for 34 tonnes of sulphur dioxide daily. In contrast, MEF claims total sulphur dioxide discharge here is limited to 3.36 tonnes a day.

Till 1990, industries accounted for nearly two-thirds of the sulphur dioxide emissions in Bombay. But this has levelled off in the past two years with the increased availability of natural gas.
Mindboggling emissions The UNEP-WHO report, in contrast to Calcutta and Bombay, predicts Delhi's air quality will deteriorate in the next few decades. Delhi's area and population growth rates are higher than of the other two megacities. These, combined with rapidly increasing industrial activity, result- ed in a continually increasing demand for energy in and around the Capital and in a mindboggling increase in sulphur dioxide, SPM and carbon monoxide (CO) emissions over the past decade.

While the MEF claims annual sulphur dioxide emission in Delhi is a comparably minuscule 2,779 tonnes annually, the UNEP-WHO report suggests the figure might be closer to 46,000 tonnes a year, with the city's two power stations producing about 25,500 tonnes.

The high sulphur dioxide emissions are also from Delhi's automobile population, which has the highest growth rate in the country. During 1971-81, the Capital's population increased by half and the number of vehicles by one-and-a-half times.

According to NEERI, vehicular emissions have in6reased carbon monoxide pollution from 140,000 tonnes/year in 1980 to 265,000 tonnes/year in 1990. The MEF has stated this to be about 169,000 tonnes annually. The UNEP-WHO report projects carbon monoxide levels in Delhi will rise to more than 400,000 tonnes annually by 2000.

However, the report also says that "clear air legislation" and pollution control measures can prevent this scenario. To support this argument, it cites the example of London, where there has been a "dramatic reduction in SPM and sulphur dioxide concentrations" in the past three decades.

Some of Ted Dexter's best batting in the 62 tests he played was at Lords during the late 1950s and early 60s. In 1965, sulphur dioxide emissions in London amounted to 179,000 tonnes; in 1983,, the emissions were reduced to less than 50,000 tonnes. Similarly, carbon monoxide emissions in 1978 amounted to nearly 950,000 tonnes. These are expected to drop to less than 350,000 tonnes by 2000.

The UNEP-WHO report says air pollution can be tackled with strategies based on relevant and proper planning, controls and stringent regulation. But, it warns the remedy demands true appreciation of the size of the problem -faced by these megacities.

With MEF's drastic understatement, its efforts at solving pollution will turn out to be a metaphorica case of myopic playing and missing Having won all three Tests agains the English team would then only be a small consolation.

Pollution levels in Indian metropolises in 1990
(tonnes per annum)
SO2 - Sulphur dioxide, SPM - Suspended particulate matter, CO - Carbon monoxide, NOx - Oxides of nitrogen
MEF figures: Indian Express, February 5, 1993.

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