BANGALORE: It is time to clear the air as Bangaloreans have been choking on air pollution.
There has been a spurt in the respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM) levels of pollution over the past six months, compared to 2012 and 2013.
The Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) monitored air quality in 15 stations across Bangalore. According to these statistics, 12 centres in the city, with the exception of Kajisonnenahalli and KHB Industrial Area, have registered a spurt in RSPM levels, which can cause respiratory problems and could also lead to cancer and lung diseases.
Centres which showed a decrease in RSPM levels in 2013 compared to 2012, have also recorded a remarkable increase in the period from January to June this year. For instance, the RSPM level at Graphite India factory was 148 in 2012, which reduced to 139 in 2013. However, from January to June 2014, the current RSPM level stands at 173.
In 2013, three extra testing stations -- Banaswadi, Domlur and Peenya Gymkhana ---were added to the 12 existing centres. These had levels of 70.5, 44 and 99 respectively in 2013 but have risen to 89.5, 58.5 and 143 respectively till June 2014.
What drives air pollution? It is the vehicles. They account for 86 per cent of pollution, according to KSPCB Chairman Vaman Acharya.
The most urgent need is to bring down the population of vehicles till pollution levels are brought under control, he said. Apart from an increasing number of vehicles, it is potholes and bad roads, which are resulting in rising dust levels, Acharya said.
The KSPCB has now recommended to the Transport Department that registration of vehicles be put on hold till pollution levels are brought under control.
“The number of vehicles should be restricted to one car per family. Two-stroke autorickshaws should be banned. We need to increase the green cover by planting an additional 85 lakh trees to match the population of 1 crore citizens. At present the city has only about 14 lakh trees,” Acharya said.
For now, however, the only solution seems to be conducting regular checks and increase the penalty for violations. The penalty may be increased to `1,000 for the first offence, `3,000 for the second offence.
“Pollution levels would come down if we could increase the speed of vehicles. Most emission happens when vehicles slow down or at signals when engines are kept running. But widening roads is not an option in Bangalore,” Rame Gowda, Commissioner, Transport Department, said.
After an Express report, the transport department is also inspecting flawed emission testing centres, said joint commissioner of the Transport Department R V D’Souza. The department has tasked RTOs to submit a report on spurious software being used at many centres.
Slowing down registration of vehicles does not look like a feasible option for the Transport Department. But Commissioner Rame Gowda said if steps have to be taken, it has to come after an ammendment to the Motor Vehicles Act.
Banning two-stroke autorickshaws also may not be possible. There are about 30,000 two-stroke autos in the city, according to the department. While the state government is offering a subsidy of `30,000 to owners to shift to four-stroke engines, the amount is too little, say owners.
“Many of us bought two-stroke autos with all our savings. To buy a four-stroke auto will cost us `1.5 lakh and the government gives us a subsidy that will not even cover the down payment,” said Srinivas, a two-stroke auto driver.
Increase in RSPM levels can have both short-term and long-term effects. In the short term, people could face difficulty in breathing, persistent cough and there could be a spurt in asthma cases, said Dr George D’souza, Medical Superintendent, St John’s Medical College.
“They may become more prone to cancer, lung diseases and in many cases heart diseases too,” he said.
Depletion of Green Cover
Depletion of the city’s green cover on such a large and rapid scale has also contributed to rise in pollution levels. Said former Indian Forest Service officer and environmentalist A N Yellappa Reddy, “Trees have the ability to absorb the RSPM, which in turn helps in purifying the air. It has been calculated that one person needs at least two to three trees, given the current pollution levels,” he said.