A peoples charter

... for clean air

 
Published: Monday 30 November 1998

THERE is no action plan of the Indian government to tackle air pollution in the short term, pointed out Anil Agarwal, director, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), at the second anniversary function of the release of its book Slow Murder. In his presentation at the World Wide Fund for Nature auditorium on November 1, Agarwal reiterated that the air pollution problem in India has become abysmally bad.

"We have a dead serious problem here: it is not only of air pollution but also of action," he said. D K Biswas, chairperson of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), who was also present, acknowledged that there was little monitoring of air pollution and no action. Talking about the white papers, action plans and affidavits issued by the government, Agarwal said that these are just useless piece of papers.

He presented a people's charter for immediate action to clean air. Monitoring harmful gases, production or import of clean diesel, prevention of private vehicles from using diesel, removing benzene from petrol, transparency in emission levels, emission warranty by manufacturers, and taxing manufacturers according to emissions to promote cleaner technology were the highlights of the charter.

Agarwal emphasised the dieselisation of India's automobile sector. As all automobile manufacturers are going in for diesel, the government should ban all vehicles except buses and trucks from using diesel, he argued. Citing the example of diesel models of Maruti Udyog Ltd, which is partly owned by the government, he said: "Even the government is not bothered. This is the sham of Indian socialism."

Three-fourths of fuel used in Delhi is diesel, he indicated. Compared to Swedish diesel, the best quality diesel available in Delhi contains 250 times more sulphur. "We are given the dirtiest diesel which is very high in sulphur and on top of that there is no standards for aromatics in India," he said. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) found in diesel exhaust can cause premature death from respiratory and cardiovascular disorders and chronic obstructive lung diseases. Some PAHs are strong carcinogens and mutagens.

"The government cannot promote diesel use and at the same time give us third-class diesel," Agarwal said. "if the government is importing diesel anyway, why is it getting third-rate diesel?" he asked.

About unleaded petrol, he said benzene was a serious problem. "Although the US uses 80 times more petrol than India, the total benzene load in the air is the same as in India," he pointed out. Benzene is a potent carcinogen, and Agarwal's data shows that the incidence of blood cancer in Delhi is roughly twice higher than other Indian cities. He said that benzene levels in the air need to be monitored and it has to be removed from petrol.

Agarwal said the government's pollution control drive is ineffective and only enhances corruption. "The responsibility for controlling pollution should entirely be upon manufacturers. Emission is their problem. Why should we be harassed for it?" he questioned.

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