Air pollution crisis: Bengaluru’s going up in smoke

Source: Deccan Chronicle

Author: Aksheev Thakur

Bengalureans of old may lament at the way the city has changed over the years, and office-goers may find driving on its roads tough with its traffic growing by leaps and bounds, but despite all the grumbling and concerns about Bengaluru’s future, the authorities seem little concerned about where it is  heading, especially in terms of air pollution.

Some of the most polluted areas of the city are the Central Silk Board junction, surroundings of the Rail Wheel Factory in Yelahanka and BTM Layout, which see heavy traffic most times of the day, giving the people here little respite from the emissions of the cars, buses and two-wheelers on the roads.

Not surprisingly, the Air Quality Index (AQI) in these areas hovers around 101-135, which though considered moderate by the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) , can  lead to minor breathing discomfort among people with lung disease.

One of the reasons for the growing air pollution in the city is its unplanned urbanisation, according to Dr Lakshmikanth HM, a member of the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board’s awareness committee. “Unplanned urbanisation has led to the chopping of trees that act as natural purifiers,” he explains.

“The other reason where we fail is in co-ordination between the agencies as this derails implementation of programmes to fight air pollution. Having  data on it is fine but what we need is urgent implementation of programmes to combat it,” he underlines. To begin with, a tree census could be a good step towards controlling the pollution, in his view.

Ms Asavari Raj Sharma, spokesperson, Clean Air Platform, believes that transportation is the largest contributor to air pollution in the city.

“With the PM2.5 levels having been consistently above national standards, people here face high levels of exposure to it . We need to to check the sources of the pollution urgently, including vehicular emissions, road dust, diesel generators and garbage burning,” she emphasises.

Warning against getting too smug about Bengaluru’s air quality index (AQI) being better than Delhi’s she adds,   “The mainstream national media and the judiciary have focussed on the  national capital region, where the pollution is a lot more visible. In our city, air pollution is a silent killer. The blue sky, pleasant weather and reputation of being a green city have led to the perception that the air is clean.”

Although the Air Quality Monitoring Committee has approved  a 44- point Action Plan to deal with the air pollution,  little is being seen  on the ground as yet to tackle it. The plan was the offshoot of a recent order by the National Green Tribunal to the government to come out with plans to deal with the air quality of cities that were worse off than others where it was concerned. But experts note that unless it is strictly implemented, it will become just another plan in cold storage, while the city’s environment worsens with every day. 

‘Artificial solutions are not the answer’

Recently, a  private company, aTechTron,  installed  an air purifier at Hudson Circle  and it soon captured pollutants and heavy metals, signalling that the city has every reason to worry about the state of its environment.

Strongly supporting the idea of installing more air purifiers in the city, Mr Rajeev Krishna  of  aTechTron, says planting of more trees may not offer an immediate solution. “It is not as if a sapling that is planted today grows into a tree tomorrow. We need to have a solution for the time being,” he says, explaining that air pollution affects not just people but also several plants that are sensitive to it.

“The most obvious damage occurs in the leaves. Growth and reproduction in some plants may also be impaired. Other effects are shading, (which may lead to a reduction in photosynthetic capacity) wearing down of the leaf surfaces and cuticle,” he adds.

So while he is all for planting of  trees as a long term solution to air pollution, he says at a time when construction is taking place all over the city and its vehicular pollution is rising, air purifiers can provide a more immediate solution.

But  founder of Project Vruksha, Vijay Nishanth, who recently released  data on India’s first digital tree census, points out that lakhs of purifiers may be required to clean up the city’s environment, which is not exactly practical.

“We need sustainable solutions such as planting more saplings. We do not need artificial solutions, but ones that the future generation will be happy with and talk about,” he underlines.

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