Air pollution is one of the greatest threats in the world right now, and in a country like India with a population of almost a 130 million(17% of world’s population), it is already getting difficult to breathe in most of the metropolitan cities. India is facing some serious air pollution issues since last 10 years and it is increasing at an alarming rate. Researchers say that if the pollution level keeps on increasing at the present rate, the life expectancy would drop at least 10 years in some parts of the country by 2022. This is an eye-opener for the governing authorities and the people of the country. But who is to be blamed, the automobile community, the people of the country or the governing authorities? Let’s have some insights on what is exactly the scenario and how it could be in future.
India leads the pack in the top number of polluted cities in the world with home to 13 in the top 20 and 33 in the top 100 most polluted cities. The statistics are mind-boggling and the effects are catastrophic. The most polluted cities are spread across North India, starting from Rajasthan and then moving along the Indo-Gangetic belt to West Bengal. While the discussions about air pollutions are centring around Delhi, other cities are not very far behind. Predictably, Delhi tops the list of the most polluted city but, it is followed closely by Ghaziabad, Allahabad, Bareilly, Faridabad, Alwar, Ranchi, Kanpur, Patna and Jharia, Kusunda and Basacola in Jharkhand.
The main cause of this exponential increase in the pollution levels is the fuel-thirsty vehicles. Automobiles are the primary source of air pollution in India’s major cities. In India, transportation sector emits an estimated 261 tonnes of CO2, of which 94.5% is contributed by road transport. The transport sector in India consumes about 17% of total energy and responsible for a 60% production of the greenhouse gases from various activities. The pollution from vehicles is due to discharge like CO, unburnt HC, Pb, NO2 and SO2 and SPM mainly from tailpipes (Dayal, 2011). Vehicles in major metropolitan cities are estimated to account for 70% of CO, 50% of HC, 30- 40% of NOx, 30% of SPM and 10% of SO2 of the total pollution load of these cities, of which two-third is contributed by two-wheelers alone. These high levels of pollutants are mainly responsible for respiratory and other air pollution-related ailments including lung cancer, asthma, etc., which is significantly higher than the national average
The automobile industry in India is reaching new heights with the combined effort of Indian companies and foreign companies stepping in India. The figures are surprising.
|Type of vehicle||Count in 2001-2002||Count in 2012-2013||Avg. annual growth rate|
As per the latest data, Indian automotive industry has produced more than 30 million vehicles including Passenger Vehicles, Commercial Vehicles, 2-wheelers and 3-wheelers is 2016. That is more than the population of more than half of the countries in the world, and the numbers are increasing at an astounding pace.
|Year||Total number of Registered Vehicles |
This has led to the total number of registered vehicles up to March 2015 to be more than 210 million. These millions of vehicles run on the streets of the country every day. And we all know what a vehicle needs to run, Fuel. And we all also know when fuel burns what is released, Exhaust gases. We all know this as well, that exhaust gases are harmful for us, but what you might not know, is what these exhaust gases are made of and how much of that is actually harmful.
Exhaust gases from vehicles mainly consist of these pollutants:
- Carbon monoxide (CO)
- Nitrogen oxide
- Sulphur dioxide
- Lead compounds
- Particulate matter
- Un-burnt hydrocarbons
These pollutants are released into the air in loads of amount daily. Data is not available for the whole country, however, a study by IIT Kanpur looking at pollution in Delhi found:
|Pollutants||Pollution load (in tons/day)|
When talked about pollution, we might have branded vehicular pollution as top contributor but in certain pollutants that are harming these cities more are not emitted by vehicles but by other sources.
There are many gases and matter which are listed as pollutants but in this graph lets discuss Particulate Matter(PM) which is often considered as dangerous as it affects visibility and remains suspended at low altitudes thus affecting health directly.
From the graph, we can clearly see that particulate matter coming from Transport contributes just 22.5 Percent. This graph is from a research done in IIT Kanpur of the pollution levels in Delhi-2015.
These enormous amounts of pollutants can lead to many health issues. Especially the particulate matter which is classified on the basis of their size, can be hazardous to human health. The PM2.5 (Particulate matter of 2.5 micrometres) and PM10 (Particulate matter if 10 micrometre) has been proved to cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
It is threatening to know that the PM levels in Delhi have been recorded to be 1500% over the safe limit. The highest recorded PM2.5 level peaked at 905 µg/m3 and PM10 level have hit a whopping 1680 µg/m3, while the safe limits are 60 µg/m3 for PM2.5 and 100 µg/m3 for PM10. These levels could prove catastrophic for health.
The effect of air pollution involves a lot of illnesses from irritation of eyes, nose, mouth and throat or diminished energy levels, headache and dizziness to potentially more serious conditions like:
- Respiratory and lung diseases, including:
- Asthma attacks
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease –COPD
- Reduced lung function
- Pulmonary cancer – caused by a series of carcinogen chemicals that enter the body through inhalation
- Mesothelioma – a particular type of lung cancer, usually associated with exposure to asbestos (it usually occurs 20-30 years after the initial exposure)
- Leukemia – a type of blood cancer usually associated with exposure to benzene vapours (through inhalation)
- Birth defects and immune system defects
- Cardiovascular problems, heart disease and stroke (an increased risk especially due to particulate matter)
- Neurobehavioral disorders – neurological problems and developmental deficits due to air toxins such as mercury (which is the only volatile metal)
- Liver and other types of cancer – caused by breathing carcinogenic volatile chemicals
- Premature death
Other than direct health problems, air pollution also leads to some indirect health issues. Air pollution is the major cause of ozone layer depletion. As the ozone layer depletes, the harmful radioactive radiation reaches the earth and can cause various skin diseases.
If you are living in a metro city, it is strongly recommended to wear gas masks whenever you step outside.
Many steps have been taken to minimize the level of pollutants. Emission norm have been implemented to tackle the problem. In 1999, India implemented the first emission form in the country, Euro. It was a European standards norm and was implemented seeing the increasing amount of air pollution. And India has not looked back ever since.
In 2000, Bharat Stage(BS) I was launched which was based on the emission standards of Euro I. Then the BS II was launched in 2005, BS III in 2010 and the latest BS IV in 2017. All these norms are abiding to set a limit on the Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter(RSPM) levels in the air. The limit of the RSPM has been decreased with every new norm.
|Emission Standard||Year of Implementation||CO (g/km) Carbon Monoxide||HC (Hydro carbons)+ NOx Nitrogen Oxides (g/km)||Permitted RSPM level||Sulphur Content in Diesel|
|BS II||2005||2.2||0.5||0.08||500 (PPM)|
|BS III||2010||2.3||0.35||0.05||100 (PPM)|
|BS IV||2017||1.0||0.18||0.025||50 (PPM)|
As per the Central Pollution Control Board, even after the application of Bharat Stage norms, the quantity of lead and sulphur in the fuel was a problem. So to as a solution to this, India now sells unleaded fuel with a limited amount of sulphur.
These norms have lead to a significant control in the air quality of the India. According to Saumitra Committee, seeing the success of the BS IV in improving the quality of air, India will is planning to launch BS V in 2022 and then BS VI in 2024. But other than these norms, some more measures have to be taken to tackle air pollution, especially in metro cities like Delhi.
The government is fighting furiously against air pollution. As per the latest data, almost 3% of the country’s GDP is spent in fighting against air pollution. So it has not only proven bad for the health, it is certainly leading the nation down.
Stringent and drastic measures are required immediately like:
- Use of clean and good quality fuels, like CNG.
- Better intra city railway networks
- Phasing out old, fuel-thirsty vehicles
- Ban on old and inferior technologies used to make engines
- Faster implementation of BS V and BS VI norms
- Effective, fast and responsive traffic management system to avoid jams
- Improve road conditions with more flyovers and underpasses
These measures are to be taken effectively and immediately to cope up with the increasing vehicular air pollution.
The pollution level in the capital city of the India, Delhi, when so high that the supreme court was forced to control it by tantalizing the spiritual emotions of its citizens. The holy festival of Diwali which is usually celebrated by a marvellous display of fireworks had to compromise as a consequence of vehicular pollution. The supreme court had to put a ban on the use of firecrackers to compensate for the damage caused by air pollution.
The authorities also came out with a unique control measure, by implementing the odd/even rule in Delhi. Cars with only odd number were allowed to run on the roads one day and only even numbers the other day. People followed this alternative odd/even rule to give their part to control pollution.
Though these measures didn’t turn out to be very effective, they helped a little in controlling the situation, and it proves that the authorities can go to the limits to try and stop control the damage caused by vehicular pollution.
Vehicular pollution in India is not just limited to air pollution, there is another kind of pollution vehicles are causing which is not give any attention.
Noise pollution is also one of the major concerns in pollutions caused by vehicles. According to World Health Organization(WHO) noise pollution is the second most hazardous after air pollution in the impact it has on health. Studies have shown that the noise pollution in some metro cities of India is above the recommended level. And most of it is due to road vehicles.
Seeing this, the Central Board of pollution control has set limits for vehicular noise.
|Category of vehicle||Noise limit in dB(A)|
|2-wheelers and 3-wheelers||80|
|Passenger vehicles or commercial vehicle up to 4 MT||85|
|Passenger vehicles or commercial vehicle above 4MT up to 12 MT||89|
|Passenger vehicles or commercial vehicle above 12 MT||91|
Apart from engine and silencer noise, the noise due to the horn is also an issue. There is a limit set to honking noise as well. Under the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989, the noise range for horns has been fixed between 93 dB and 112dB. The decibel is measured at a distance of 7.5 meters from the horn and at a height of 0.5 to 1.5 meters.
Noise pollution can lead to some serious and often underestimated health problems. Experts say that exposure to noise of 93 dB for more than 8 hours a day can lead to temporary or permanent irreversible hearing loss. Countries like Australia and Canada have already reduced the maximum allowed horn decibel level to 104 dB. India needs to take immediate action to prevent its people from going deaf.
The authorities are now considering reducing the maximum allowed decibel level to 100 dB. Honking has become a nuisance. In India, it’s more of a behavioural issue. Authorities can bring down the decibel level but drivers will have to stop honking.
Although these statistics were not necessary for you to know the extent of Vehicular pollution in the country. If you live in a metro city, you must have already experienced and suffering from it. But it is the need of the hour to know about it and take immediate suitable measures. For accurate pollution levels visit Central Pollution Control Board website for updated status.
A question was raised at the beginning of the article, “Who is to be blamed, the automobile community, the people of the country or the governing authorities?”
Turns out, no one is to be blamed individually, it requires the combined effort of everyone to prevent this havoc from ruining the country.