Bengaluru’s deteriorating air quality gets another action plan, this time expanding from 14 points to 44.
The move follows a recent National Green Tribunal (NGT) order to make action plans for four non-attainment cities (urban areas with air quality worse than prescribed standards) in the State: Bengaluru, Hubballi–Dharwad, Davangere, and Kalaburagi.
Earlier in April, the Air Quality Monitoring Committee approved a 44-point action plan, involving nine government departments. The action plans are divided into 15 short-term plans, 11 mid-term, and 17 long-term plans, with one action plan being ongoing.
“The NGT-appointed committee is scrutinising these plans and the approval will spur the State government agencies to implement them. These 44 action points are comprehensive and will surely improve air pollution drastically if they are implemented in full,” said B. Nagappa, senior environmental officer, Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB).
It has been over a decade since the 14-point action plan was made following orders of the High Court of Karnataka. “Of the 14, all but one have been implemented. The suggestion of no fuelling in petrol stations without a Pollution Under Control (PUC) certificate is yet to be implemented. The implementation of the rest, however, has resulted in a decline in air pollution, particularly in areas such as Mysuru Road,” he added.
The plans include clearing dust and silt from major roads, promotion of battery-operated vehicles and induction of electric buses, creation of satellite bus stations, retrofitting particulate filters in diesel vehicles, increasing enforcement on those plying polluting vehicles or burning garbage, among others.
The ban on two-stroke vehicles, which has been in the action plans for over 15 years, continues to find a place with the new deadline for implementation in December 2019. While the old action plan involved the setting up of new emission testing centres at petrol stations, the new action plan states that by June, these emission monitoring equipments will be checked for accuracy.
Construction and debris (C&D) waste finds prominent place in reducing particulate matter pollution in the city.
In the document to be submitted to the NGT, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has said a C&D waste processing plant is being commissioned at Kannur. Furthermore, nine mechanical sweepers are being used to clear road dust, while plans are in the pipeline to buy or hire a further 33 machines. Measures such as TenderSURE roads, multi-level car parks and road-widening are under way, the civic body has responded.
‘Execution is important’
Yogesh Ranganath, Chief Executive Officer of Clean Air Platform, said while the plans are good, execution remains the key. “There is a clear sense of targeting the big sources of pollution, particularly traffic. But, there must be a more specific plan of implementing these action plans,” he said.
An accountability mechanism is needed to ensure transparency and oversight in the promises made. “It is important to have a nodal agency to ensure periodic progress and accountability of all the authorities involved, without which the plan becomes redundant. The Ministry of Environment and the KSPCB should clarify the exact nature and the functioning of the committee and who they are accountable to,”said Aishwarya Sudhir, Air Quality programme lead, Health and Environment Alliance.
She pointed out that air pollution is primarily a health issue, while the Health Department has been left out of the Air Quality Monitoring Committee.
IR camera to catch polluting vehicles?
The grand action plan for curbing polluting vehicles includes infra-red (IR) cameras that can “detect” polluting vehicles much like how the traffic police’s cameras can detect vehicular number plates.
The Transport Department has said it intends to enter an MoU with Clean Air Platform for testing of on-road remote sensing of vehicular emissions. Currently being used in cities such as London, Beijing, and even Kolkata, the technology can detect violating vehicles and automatically penalise them.
This, said Mr. Ranganath, could be a game changer. “Less than 10% of the vehicles of the city cause 80% of all pollution in the transportation sector. These are often commercial vehicles that move a lot within the city and are badly maintained,” he said.
According to the Transport Department, 6% of the over 2.62 lakh vehicles checked between April 2018 and January 2019 had violated air pollution norms. The traffic police have booked just 3,209 cases where visible smoke is observed in vehicles, which is just 0.01% of all traffic offences booked in Bengaluru between 2016 and 2018.
“In Beijing, there are 30 such cameras at the inlets of the city. In Bengaluru too, we can use them in major highways to monitor vehicles, particularly polluting goods vehicles, entering the city. It is a challenge, but will become important when BS VI norms kick in (from April 2020),” said Mr. Ranganath.
The KSPCB has also commissioned an updated source appropriation study for the city. The last such study submitted in 2010 by TERI (with 2007 as the base year) had shown the transport sector to be the largest contributor to pollution in the city: 42% of all particulate matter 2.5 pollution and 68% of nitrous oxide pollution. The updated study is expected to show an increase in the pollution load of the transport sector, said officials.