But try telling that to the Indian state. Among a host of environmental misdemeanours -- crimes, really -- the dramatic rise in air pollution in most Indian metropolises over the last one decade is a direct result of an inefficient state, both in terms of balancing responsibilities and precautionary actions. Delhi and Calcutta are already among the worst polluted cities in the world. Others like Bangalore, once a 'garden city', are rapidly deteriorating. As urban India braces itself for a wonderful, oxygen-less 21st century, I would like to ask the question: where does this pollution come from?
In the pages that follow, we at the Centre for Science and Environment have tried to answer this question. In these pages, you will notice that we talk of air pollution by vehicles, and not air pollution in general. The reason is a simple one. In many cities, especially in Delhi, vehicular air pollution is the key culprit.
I would like to dwell on the genesis of our focus on vehicular pollution, which has led to a report called -- dead on target, I think -- slow murder: The Deadly Story of Vehicular Pollution in India . (What you will read here is based on the report.) It began during the high summer of 1995, when I saw a large number of cars line up in the heat to get their emission levels checked. Even as an environmentalist, I was not aware of all the contours of this highly technical problem of vehicular pollution. But this tailpipery struck me as a little imbecilic; as if only vehicle maintenance was at the heart of the problem. I was aware this was not the key policy measure industrialised countries took to reduce air pollution. And at a dinner in Washington dc , Vineet Nayyar, formerly chairperson of the Gas Authority of India, had told me, "Anil, your biggest problem is the quality of fuel that state refineries are supplying the cities. Strangely, none of you environmentalists seem to be taking up the issue." That was true, and I had begged ignorance.
In that June heat, my first reaction was that as an environmentalist, I must issue a press statement urging Delhi's citizens to refuse to get their tailpipes checked unless the government gets its act together. After former environment minister Maneka Gandhi adopted the environmental gimmick of checking tailpipes in 1991, everybody down to Madan Lal Khurana and Sahib Singh Verma has found it a great publicity stunt to force citizens to get their cars checked and happily place the blame for pollution on the carowner. A scandal, to my mind, more murderous and injurious to public health than the entire hawala scam put together.
Since then, it has become clear to me that tailpipe checking is clearcut harassment of the citizen by the state in the name of environment. Since then, I have been led into many questions in our search for an angry and fitting reply to such harassment, one that would place the many unknown twists of the problem of vehicular pollution before the public. Is it because we produce cars that should be banned the moment they leave factory gates? Or is it because no one is really planning ahead to meet the traffic needs of our cities? Could it also be that we have a crassly materialistic middle class which will stick to its aged vehicles and refuse to phase them out, as it happens in most Western countries (so that even if a new technology is introduced, it will take 15-20 years to make an impact)?
What is also clear is that vehicular pollution is a created problem, not a 'natural' one. If you look at the total emission picture of a city in the 1950s or 1960s, you would see three types of emissions. Emissions from industrial sources, including power plants; from vehicular sources; and those from household sources. The energy market changed, especially in the 1960s and 1970s; as kerosene and lpg made their way into kitchens, smoky firewood and coal went out. By the 1980s, these emissions were insignificant.
In 1991, Parliament passed the Air Pollution Act, precisely to take care of industrial and vehicular pollution. It is easy to take care of industrial pollution. Numerous technologies like electrostatic precipitators can help reduce factory pollution. Or, pollution controllers can re-locate factories (never mind if that spoils a greener and cleaner locale, and harms settlements near the relocated plant). But what of vehicular pollution? A city is stuck with its vehicles. It lives with them. Cars have to be tamed to cut down on pollution.
This is the toughest part of urban air control. And so, our decision to focus on pollution by vehicles.
The report, and these 'analysis' pages, tell you innumerable things. They tell you that vehicular pollution is a combination of
bad vehicular technology;
poor fuel quality;
poor vehicle maintenance; and
non-existent traffic planning.
They tell you
of the games being played in the corridors of the ministry of environment and forests ( mef ) and the ministry of surface transport on the one hand, and the tinkerings of our great automobile manufacturers on the other;
that in the mid-1980s, T N Seshan told the ministry of industrial development that no more new scooter manufacturers should be allowed in India, but nobody even bothered to respond to him;
how vehicular standards have passed from one committee to another, and generously diluted;
of the dirt the ministry of petroleum and the Bureau of Indian Standards lets through in the fuel you use;
that India calculatedly imports poor quality crude because it's cheaper, and never mind what the sulphur in it does to your body, so long as the great sahibs and sahibaans can drive to the subji mandi ;
how poor metropolitan traffic management is in India;
implicitly, that if you happen to live in that arch-capitalist city called Singapore, which is dictatorial but also clean, you are going to get the hell taxed out of you if you plan to buy a car, so that only millionaires can own them. And all the great marketing managers, media stars and advertising executives, the new hoi-polloi of a city growing in a globalised economy, like Delhi, calmly go around playing footsie.
When we requested the state-owned Indian Institute of Petroleum, running on taxes we pay, to test samples of Indian transport fuel and compare them with international standards, we were told to buzz off, though we offered to pay for the study. Testing fuel quality, I am told, is no joke. It requires expensive equipment which only state institutions have. Now that's information, knowledge and transparency for you!
To me, it is clear that the standard system of governance -- create a law and build an institution to implement it -- has not worked in the case of environmental issues, like air pollution by vehicles. mef today has no mechanism whatsoever, excepting some disorganised boards and expert groups, to analyse or implement complex issues which span several disciplines and inter-ministerial and Centre-state territorialities.
What should we do? I think we can get the industry to respond more than the disinterested, incompetent and corrupt government. If making money while destroying the environment can be defined as an environmental crime, then wouldn't it be fair to launch a cam paign that describes eminent industrialist Rahul Bajaj as India's Environmental Criminal Number One, as far as urban air quality is concerned? Call T R Baalu (the petroleum minister) or Jai Narain Prasad Nishad (minister for environment) environmental criminals as much as you want, they will still get their votes. But such a campaign would greatly hurt the corporate image of Bajaj.
In any case, we have little time to lose. Read how all of us have been kept in the dark by all those who didn't bother about clean air -- we call them smog incorporated -- and get back to us. We want to hear from you, about how we can work together on this issue which means so much for our health and that of our children. Can we all demand the right to clean air?
Carbon monoxide (co) This poison gas is produced when air and fuel combust in the engine of cars, two-wheelers, and three-wheelers.
Oxides of nitrogen (no x ) Formed during combustion, they emerge from exhaust as nitric oxide ( no ). And in the atmosphere, gradually convert to nitrogen dioxide ( no 2 ). no 2 , most noxious, participates in a series of reactions with oxygen and ultraviolet radiation to form photochemical smog.
Unburnt hydrocarbons (hcs) Especially emitted by petrol-driven vehicles, it's the fuel your engine could not burn.
Oxides of sulphur (so x ) Vehicular exhaust contains sulphur monoxide, which oxidises in the atmosphere to sulphur dioxide ( so 2 ). Mostly emitted by diesel-driven vehicles.
Lead additives in fuel account for 80-90 per cent of lead in the atmosphere. Also emitted via evaporation losses from engine and tank.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (pahs) come from incomplete fuel combustion. Diesel exhaust contains high volumes of particulate-bearing pah s.
Suspended particulate matter (spm) are tiny particles in diesel exhaust. pm -10, less than 10 microns in diameter, is directly respirable.
Ozoneis a principle ingredient of smog. Ground-level ozone is dangerous.
Benzene comes from crude used to manufacture fuel. Its levels in crude are maintained, often enhanced, while producing unleaded fuel. Main sources of emission are vehicles, and evaporation losses during handling, distribution and storage of fuel.
it is one thing to know what vehicular exhaust is, or contains. It is quite another thing to know precisely how much of all these chemical compounds are actually present in the ambient air that we breathe. Where the physical chemistry of vehicular exhaust meets with reality, there is insufficient data, information that contradicts, and a lot of confusion.
According to the Mumbai Municipal Corporation, vehicular pollution in the city increased from 398.7 metric tonnes per day (tpd) to 1314.33 tpd between 1977 and 1987. But according to another estimate by the Central Pollution Control Board ( cpcb ), pollution peaked from 583.96 tpd to 659.57 tpd between 1987 and 1992. Chronology is maintained, but the figures just don't match! The point is that vehicular pollution is most inefficiently monitored in this country. Studies that exist often do not contain information on particular pollutants.
Often, it is not possible to even pinpoint the degree to which different sources (such as power plants or industries) contribute to the poison in the air. This has a dangerous implication. It means vested interests, such as the automobile industry, have a readymade escape route when it comes to owning up responsibility. They can carry on slow murdering.
a comparison between different sources of pollution (industries, power plants) shows that emissions from diesel vehicles are assuming dangerous proportions in Mumbai. These emissions are high on spm , 90 per cent of which are directly respirable. And the tiny pm -10s have insinuated themselves into the lungs and lives of 1,90,000 children now suffering from bronchitis.
Diesel, high in sulphur content, is also behind high so 2 concentrations in Mumbai's traffic junctions, varying between 80-162 m g/m 3 , much above the national air quality standard for so 2 in such areas (80 m /m 3 ). All those diesel trucks running through this city. And now that the fleet has been joined by all those new-fangled diesel-powered cars and jeeps...
like a benighted prayer, 1,300 metric tonnes ( mt ) of pollutants are huffed into Delhi's skies, straight from the exhaust pipe. Everyday. Is being the fourth most polluted city in the world a distinction?
Delhi has the maximum road length. All of 1,595 km. But the sheer volume of traffic hogs it up. In 1993, 2.1 million vehicles were registered in Delhi. Of this, 69 per cent are two-wheelers, and four per cent are three-wheelers running on petrol-fuelled two-stroke engines. Two-stroke engines are emission-inefficient because some of the petrol remains unburnt. So exhaust from these vehicles contains more co and hc s. Delhi's emission profile shows how grossly they pollute. co : 810 mt; and hc s: 310 mt . Yes, everyday.
Did you know that buses account for only one per cent of vehicles in Delhi?
Bumper to bumper
calcutta's roads are bewildering: buses, trams, taxies, autorickshaws. Yet, its transportation needs are mostly met by personal vehicles. Forty four per cent of vehicles here are two-wheelers. And a fair number of rickshaws and bicycles. Just where is the space for all these vehicles to move? This precisely is Calcutta's problem. Its road length is a mere six per cent of the total city area. And congestions are nightmarish. In this city, vehicles crawl.
When vehicles crawl, they belch some more. This is because the engine cannot burn fuel efficiently. In this densely populated city, the impact is disastrous. Public Health officials report an increasing trend of acute respiratory infections among Calcutta's inhabitants. Bronchitis, oedema of the lungs, ischaemic heart diseases, dust allergies.
this is a fact: the process of revising vehicular emission norms in India seeks to progressively reduce emission levels, becoming more stringent with time. The first ever regulation of April 1991 stipulated control only on co and hc emissions. The April 1996 norms seek to reduce emission levels by 40-50 per cent in comparison to 1991. The latest norms also take no x emissions into account. The next date for revisions is 2000 ad . It seeks to be stricter.
This is also a fact: the process of revising vehicular emission norms in India is a progressive watering down of expert recommendations, becoming less stringent with time. In 1991, a committee was set up to recommend emission norms for 1995 and 2000 ad , headed by H B Mathur of the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi. Mathur instituted two subcommittees under him. Then began the wrangling. A subcommittee headed by S Raju came up with its own set of standards, more dilute and allegedly pro-automobile industry. Then in 1993, the ministry of environment and forests ( mef ) issuedits own set of recommendations, even more lax. The ministry also postponed the date of implementing norms by a year, from 1995 to 1996. Finally, when the standards were officially declared in April 1996, they turned out to be even more watered down than the three earlier sets of recommendations. To the automobile industry, with love.
Some crucial parameters were changed. Vehicles emit more when the engine is cold. The initial recommendations were based on this logic, technically called the cold start measurement. mef rejected this parameter. The 1996 norms are based on warm start measurement, a neat average, or climbdown. You see, it takes more sophisticated technology, or greater social responsibility, to control emissions during cold start.
Another parameter used to set standards is the driving cycle, which simulates average road driving conditions (see: Driving in a cycle). The Mathur and Raju recommendations were based on the Indian driving cycle. But the 1996 norms are based on the European driving cycle. Naturally, they are less stringent, because smoother, wider, less congested road conditions mean that cars function more efficiently, even in simulation. But where is the autobahn?
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