This time last year, Kolkata saw alarming AQI levels and even toppled Delhi to become the most polluted metropolis in the country. This year,Â pollution in Kolkata had not seen any huge spike but the residents are feeling the burn.
Mr. Bhowal Babu and his neighbour Mr. Mitra had to stop their early morning walk due to the foul air quality. This year, Mr. Bhowal had decided to suspend their morning ritual until the last week of November as a precautionary measure. However, the old friends could never resume their exercise, as Mr. Mitra had to be hospitalised for breathing difficulty. The otherwise healthy gentleman had been taken down by the pollution trigger.
The Unbreathable City
According to news reports, hospitals in the city have registered almost a 20% rise in cases where patients are complaining of asthma, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), dry cough and other problems related to breathing difficulty and obstruction. In fact, doctors claim that residents with no history or presence of lung disorder or infection are also joining the OPD queue. The rise in AQI levels is directly proportional to residents with respiration complaints. The post-festival period from October to January has seen a tremendous increase in asthma and COPD complaints since 2016. Kolkataâ€™s pollution-induced effects have sadly become an annual affair.
In May this year, the cityâ€™s unhealthy air was rumoured to cause cancer among residents, especially near the landfill site of Baranagar. The stench is unbearable all year round but as soon as the dry season starts, the garbage dump easily catches fire due to any number of reasons. The resultant smoke from this makes the polluted air over the city more toxic. Although this theory has not been proven, in 2016 a Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) assessment found worrying levels of cancer-causing toxins in the air. Even experts claim that the city air can affect residents with fatal diseases like lung impairment and cancer.
The government is planning to arm Kolkata with the green energy to counter the pollution threats. The city is investing to improve the public commuting segment as diesel emissions from vehicles is one of the leading causes of pollution in Kolkata. The diesel capital of India, Kolkata, is planning to run 5,000 electric-powered buses and Rajarhat has already seen the advent of this clean energy transportation option. The ferries plying in the Ganga will also be electrified by 2030.
The government should be more proactive in implementing clean fuel norms across the city. This should be not only in the case of vehicular emissions but also for street vendors using diesel in various production efforts. The city needs stricter rules for fuel consumption and approved fuel types. The government should actively deploy a proper waste management system and impose a ban on the burning of solid waste in garbage sites. The law should also prohibit illegal and indiscriminate construction, as Delhi has done. While the noose should be tightened over industrial units discharging toxic waste.
Many environmentalists are running awareness campaigns where residents are educated about the severity of situations. Community-led initiatives, such as Kolkata Clean Air, are some of the groups trying to make a difference from the level of residents.
Be Aware as Residents
The reality is bleak but the war on pollution has to be fought at all levels, from the government to residents. However, as long as the government initiatives and public awareness do not begin to address the problem at its very root, as residents, precaution is the only way to take care. Here are some suggestions that will help tide over the pollution in Kolkata.
- Lower indoor pollution by avoiding the burning of camphor and incense sticks. Candles and mosquito repellents too add to bad quality indoor air.
- Protect your eyes along with wearing masks. Use sunglasses, scarves always as pollution leads to many allergies in eyes and skin.
- Avoid outdoor activity and early morning exposure to polluted air. Children should go out only when levels of pollution are low.
- Keep your house furnishings clean because linens tend to absorb the pollutants from the moisture laden air. Keep doors and windows closed.
- Use the correct and recommended face masks like N99, N95, etc. Surgical masks which are in widespread use do not help when pollution levels are very high.
- Install air purifiers, air humidifiers or opt for air-purifying plants to keep your homes healthy.
While activists and governments are waking up to the enormity of the situation, the pace of implementation has been staggered. Vehicular emission has been addressed with the introduction of electric buses in a phased manner but a host of other causes need the same planned and urgent solutions.
Pollution in Kolkata has already started affecting the residents of the city, and before a catastrophic health scare emerges the problem needs to be addressed at the earliest. In this case, the apathy of authorities and lack of proactivity among residents may make the situation worse in the future.