The Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), for the first time ever on Tuesday, employed sprinklers and spray machines in an attempt to combat the city’s air pollution, which skyrocketed to alarming proportions after Kali Puja-Diwali night.
By midnight on Sunday, the PM2.5 (fine particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less, which drives air quality in Kolkata) count hovered around the 1,000 micrograms per cubic metre mark, as much as 16 times the ‘safe limit’ of 60. To put things in perspective, anything above 250 makes the air quality index ‘severe’, capable of causing respiratory impact even on healthy people. Notably, even our ‘safe’ limit of 60 falls under the ‘high’ pollution index in most European and American countries.
KMC’s debut effort was mainly aimed at driving down the suspended particulate mater (SPM) count in the most congested and polluted localities.
Six newly acquired sprinklers and spray machines were spotted in action on Tuesday afternoon at different locations across the city: in front of Raj Bhavan at BBD Bag, around Calcutta High Court, at the Park Circus seven-point crossing, Park Street and Kidderpore. Civic officials said they wanted to prevent the surface of roads from drying out and thus enabling the dust to be blown by vehicles, keeping the SPM count up.
Both the PM10 and PM2.5 counts shot up following the weekend celebrations. The latter is particularly harmful as it enters the bloodstream, causing long-term health problems.
The vehicles that were pressed into service had been given to the civic authority by the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB), which is also scheduled to finance 10 road-sweeping machines to mop up dust. Such an action had yielded good results in Delhi in previous years.
KMC’s action on a holiday (civic offices were shut for Bhaiphonta) follows a letter from green activist Bonani Kakkar to the KMC commissioner Khalil Ahmed in the wake of TOI reports on the city’s poor AQI since Sunday. “Alarmed by the reports, I wrote to the KMC commissioner and urged him to use the sprinklers, and he wrote back assuring it would be done,” Kakkar said.
The state PCB has chalked out a strategy to combat declining air quality on the basis of a provisional source apportionment study report on air pollution. The study hinted that coal and biomass burning by roadside food vendors is the biggest source of PM2.5 pollution. Accordingly, PCB is ready to facilitate (with financial aid) food vendors to switch to cleaner fuel like LPG or electricity.
Much of the implementation, though, depends on civic bodies like KMC, Bidhannagar Municipal Corporation, Howrah Municipal Corporation (HMC) and the state government. Environmentalists say the government and civic bodies must act in sync to respond to deteriorating air quality with urgent measures similar to the ones implemented in Delhi, where schools have been shut to prevent children being exposed to the toxic air, and cars with odd and even registration numbers allowed to ply on alternative days.
Howrah, incidentally, was the first city to respond to the switch to cleaner fuel by food vendors. “HMC has finalised the list of food hawkers. But KMC is yet to hand over the complete list for allotment of funds,” said a PCB official.
Green action group Centre for Science and Environment executive director (research and advocacy) Anumita Roychowdhury said the degradation of air quality warranted emergency action on industrial pollution, waste burning and dust generators with strong deterrence and zero tolerance. “At the same time, sustained effort is needed to up-scale public transport and minimise waste burning for long-term air quality impact,” she said.
Source: Times of India