BENGALURU: If you’re caught in a traffic jam in Bengaluru, which is every day, someone will say, before long, “We’re becoming like Delhi.” The city’s treehuggers say we’re already there. But in the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), officials say Bengaluru is at least two decades from Delhi.
Considering that Bengaluru’s population is a mere 11.5 million (2016) compared to Delhi’s 16.8 million, there’s still some time to play the fiddle. But then, look at the population growth rate for the decade 2001-2011: 46 per cent. This was exactly the same growth rate our national capital had in the decade 1991-2001 before it got as bad as it has now.
Similarly, Bengaluru’s vehicle population has reached the very stage from which Delhi took off towards becoming the global basket case of air pollution. The Garden City has 63 lakh vehicles on the roads, growing 10 per cent per year. The number of vehicles is second only to Delhi, which has 90 lakh vehicles on the road, growing 6.4 per cent per annum.
Add to this the increase in generation of solid waste and rise in construction activity, Bengaluru is clearly on the Rajpath to pollution hell. Ambient air quality parameters have already shown a 57 per cent increase in particulate matter in just four years (2010-2014) and 23 per cent in one year (2014-15). Pollution levels, be it PM 10 or PM 2.5, have surpassed permissible limits at more than 80 per cent of monitoring locations.
It’s cold comfort that a Delhi-like smog hanging over Bengaluru is unlikely any time soon, climatic conditions being different. Yet, as KSPCB environmental officer Nanda Kumar says, “the city has reached a stage where only levying a heavy penalty can discourage the use of private vehicles.”
Back in 2014, after being pulled up by the High Court of Karnataka, the KSPCB directed the Transport Department to restrict registration of new vehicles in Bengaluru until air pollution levels are reined in. There was even talk of a congestion tax on people owning more than one vehicle. However, as that requires an amendment of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, nothing has been done so far.
Environmentalist Yellappa Reddy sees the signs of Delhi everywhere in Bengaluru, “We are neck and neck with Delhi. We have a majority of diesel vehicles. More than 40 per cent of our vehicles do not meet emission standards. There is construction going on everywhere. We have a garbage burning problem. And 70 per cent of our children suffer from respiratory issues.”
Bengaluru’s hospitals are reporting that six out every 10 patients complain of typical pollution-related symptoms: sore throat, running nose, cough, allergic bronchitis, asthma and middle ear infection. Dr Murali Mohan, pulmonologist at Narayana Health, confirms that poor air quality is showing up in the form of increased incidence of respiratory diseases. “Overall, all respiratory diseases have seen a spike. Cough and breathlessness have become common.”
2002: 15.9 lakh
20010: 34.9 lakh
2012: 41.56 lakh
2015: 55.59 lakh
2016: 68 lakh
Municipal solid waste
* tonnes per day
PM 10 peaks (optional)
2013: 168.70 μg, (AMCO Batteries, Mysore Road)
2014: 219.30 μg (ITPL)
2015: 187.80 μg (Silk Board)
2016: 159 μg (Silk Board)