Breathless Kolkata all set to beat Delhi's dismal air pollution record

Environmentalists have forecast a grim scenario as they see 2023 approaching with a serious threat for West Bengal.

A low visibility of a Hooghly Bridge and roads covered in smog due to air pollution in Kolkata. (Photo: IANS)
A low visibility of a Hooghly Bridge and roads covered in smog due to air pollution in Kolkata. (Photo: IANS)


A new year always brings with it a new hope for brighter days and this time, the expectations are even higher given that things, especially the economic activities, have started to pick up after a prolonged slowdown due to Covid pandemic.

However, on the environment front, the environmentalists have forecast a grim scenario as they see 2023 approaching with a serious threat for West Bengal. As per them, the pollution levels in Kolkata and some other district towns might reach worsening levels with the likelihood of average air quality index (AQI) in the state capital surpassing that of New Delhi.

Sounds unconceivable! But indications have been there with the advent of winter in the last month of 2022, where the AQI for Kolkata has been recorded worse than that of New Delhi on certain days. IANS takes a review on the threat factors as well as remedial measures on this count as suggested by environmentalist and green- technologists.

According to a recent report from HEI Soga, currently Kolkata is the second most polluted city in the world second after the national capital of New Delhi in the parameter of the quantity of PM2.5 and nitrogen dioxide in the air. However, in the last month of 2022, there has been an indication that one day the pollution level in Kolkata is going above that of the national capital.

For the two consecutive days of December 12 and December 13 this year, the pollution level in Kolkata had been higher than that in Delhi as far as the air quality index (AQI) parameter is concerned. On both these days, the AQI levels were above 300 which falls under "hazardous" category, as against Delhi's levels of "very unhealth" on December 12 and "unhealthy" on December 13.

According to the environmentalist and green-technologist Somendra Mohan Ghosh, this finding is an alarming indication. "This shows that while at times the AQI levels in the national capital have started showing some minor positive trends, the situation is getting reversed. If administrative measures for pollution control are not implemented strictly, things will worsen for Kolkata as well as in the entire state in the coming years and if not the next year," Ghosh said.

Environmental activists are of the opinion that a number of negative factors in the pollution- management system is fuelling the fast deterioration on this count. Of these negative factors some are typical for the state capital of Kolkata while some relate to the districts of West Bengal.

The most glaring example of mismanagement on this count has been evident in the case of the different coal- based thermal power plants in West Bengal, which have conventionally contributed to increasing pollution levels in the state.

According to a recent report from Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), not a single- power plant in West Bengal has successfully implemented the emission standards set for them set in December 2015 for limiting emission of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury, along with tightening particulate matter emissions. While 40 per cent of the thermal power plants in West Bengal are yet to awards the bids for flue gas desulphurization (FGD) plants till date, the remaining 60 per cent have not have been able to complete the pollution reduction technology installation within the allotted time frames, which had already been extended three times over the previous seven years.

CREA analyst, Sunil Dahiya feels that this a serious lapse on part of both public and private sector thermal power plants in the state to reduce pollution at source as a result the pollution scenario in the state is deteriorating day by day.

Renowned environment activists like Subhash Dutta and Nabo Dutta feel that there is an urgent necessity for the West Bengal government to replicate the Tamil Nadu model of setting up a special-purpose vehicle like Tamil Nadu Green Climate Company (TNGCC) to formulate plans to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions in the state besides developing strategies to reduce emissions through green energy and renewable energy and increasing forest cover in the state among others.

Other than Somendra Mohan Ghosh, environmentalists like Dipanjali Majumdar and Viay Jaju feel that while automobile emission remains the dominant factor for the deteriorating AQI in Kolkata, there are other factors like open air cooking using coal- based or kerosine- gas ovens by 10,000 odd street vendors in the city, indiscriminate burning of garbage in open places in absence of a proper garbage segregation systems and the piling of hazardous construction sites in open spaces near the under-construction real estate sites are other major contributing factors.

Considering that automobile emission remains the dominant factor for the deteriorating AQI, Ghosh specially stressed on limiting the entry of diesel-driven commercial vehicles within the city limits. "In order to achieve that the state government will have to take initiatives like setting up more CNG stations and charging centres for battery-operated vehicles. At the same time, an initiative should be taken for direct supply of CNG through pipelines to the different gas stations. Another necessity is setting up adequate conversion centres for conversion to fit the CNG kits into the existing- diesel operated vehicles," Ghosh added.

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