Considering Gurgaon’s proximity to Delhi, which is ranked first on the list of the most polluted cities in the world, and the fact that Gurgaon is getting industrialized at breakneck speed, it would be well worth investigating the quality of air in the crisis laden city. The spotlight has been on the capital ever since it came to be known that it has left Beijing, last year’s topper, far behind as far as worsening air quality is concerned. Would the other cities in the NCR be immune to this problem? The scenario that Gurgaon offers may be as bad as Delhi’s.
What the CSE experiment revealed last year (winter statistics)
A Times of India report dated 24th December, 2014 revealed a situation that threw up some grave statistics. It quoted some data from a portable air pollution measuring device used by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) that was used to record levels of particulate matter considered hazardous for the respiratory system, including very small particles categorized as PM 2.5, the worst kind of pollutant floating around in the noxious air of the NCR region.
But before we get to the statistics, you need a standard against which to compare exactly how to interpret the information available as good, moderate or severe. See below the Air Pollution Index provided by the Indian Meteorological Institute Pune, which classifies particulate matter concentrations as per severity.
The CSE conducted this study on the IFFCO Chowk-Cyber Green Office area- Sohna Road-Artemis hospital- Amity International School- Medanta-Rajiv Chowk- Civil Hospital-Sadar Bazar-Udyog Vihar stretch, one that is used by most of the citizens at least one day of the week. The hourly average concentrations of PM 2.5 were found to be 966 micrograms/ cubic metre at IFFCO Chowk during evening hours (peak traffic), which is almost FOUR TIMES the concentration levels marked as very unhealthy by the Air Pollution Index above. During late evening hours, the readings CROSSED THE 1,000 mark at Cyber Greens Office area.
Even in the mornings, at the time when people go for jogs and children leave for their schools, the particulate matter concentrations were comparatively high. This demonstrates how bad the situation is during winters, when particulate matter coalesces and remains suspended in the air for long periods of time due to reduced air saturation levels and low temperature.
The US EPA Real Time Air Quality Index data (summer statistics)
The United States Environment Protection Agency has an Air Quality Index for which real time data are shown for various cities around the world. The data that it showed at the time of writing of this article for the NCR region included the areas of Anand Vihar, Mandir Marg, R.K.Puram, ITO and Civil Lines in Delhi. Though the data for Gurgaon was not available, one can get a fair idea of how polluted the air in the NCR region is and what ranges it lies in during summers, from this data. Look at the image below for more details. 161 corresponds to Mandir Marg, 275 corresponds to R.K Puram and 410 to Anand Vihar. Though they are not as high as they may be during winters, they are high enough to fall in the unhealthy to very unhealthy category as per the API given in the section above.
What the Haryana pollution Control Board (continuous ambient air quality) records show
A disparity has been noticed in what is shown in by the indices we have covered thus far and the data that has just been released by the Haryana State Pollution Control Board. The biggest discrepancy that is noticed from their report, taken from the period 1-4-2015 to 3-5-2015, is the fact that readings for PM 2.5 have been omitted, except for the last three days. These too seem to be in the normal range. Why the data for the particles that affect us most severely, were not available is a matter of conjecture.
PM 2.5 levels peaked at 207, which comes in the ‘poor’ range, while CO was found to touch 8.3, which is considered moderate. Such records do not seem to suggest a grave situation. The location from where the readings have been taken is on the Sohna Manesar Road, according to a report by the Times of India dated 24th January, 2015. There is just one stationary machine that takes the readings. Such a method of collecting data has caused discrepancies in the readings, admits HSPCB senior scientist Dinesh Kumar. CSE head Anumita Roy Chowdhury was of the opinion that the mechanism used by the authorities is not competent. The table is shown below in two separate images.
The fact that Gurgaon has twice more number of cars and two wheelers (232) per 1,000 people than even Delhi (120) is not helping matters at all. With a 250% growth rate that Gurgaon is currently witnessing, there is going to be a steeper and sustained rise in automobile acquisition in the years to come. Also, the National Green Tribunal has recognized the fact that construction debris is contributing to the worsening quality of air in the entire NCR region, for remedying which it has issued several warnings in the near past. The respective governments are yet to take action on the same.
Now is the time to recognize where we are going wrong and take appropriate action. If you wish our future generations to breathe in a clean environment, proactive steps must be taken today. It is still not too late. Taking small steps towards contributing to limiting noxious particulates in the air, such as car pooling, can easily help circumvent the damage dealt. What is more important is to implement them.