How Kolkata Air Quality is a Cause of Concern and What We should Do

Amlan is not a fanatic on anything. He is moderate in his views in almost all subjects under the sun. Even in matters of politics and religion, he prefers to tread a middle path.

He is doing his master’s in Environmental Studies from Calcutta University. Amlan is not only interested to receive his degree and get into a job. He is really passionate about the environment almost to the point of fanaticism.

Every now and then, his sister, who is still in school, has to bear with long lectures from Amlan whenever she forgets to switch off the light, or wastes too much water. Saving our planet is everyone’s responsibility, and these small steps can help.

It is not always necessary to take up grand projects to help our environment. Small steps can go a long way. Especially when it comes to having a clean environment in our cities, the cumulative effect of everyone contributing in small ways adds up to something quite big.

Kolkata air quality has been a cause of serious concern in recent times and we must do something about it now.

The 2nd Most Polluted City in India

Kolkata has earned the dubious distinction of the 2nd most polluted city in India, just after Delhi. While the major cause of poor air quality in the NCR region is stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana, Kolkata’s poor air quality is not because of any major external factor.

Kolkata has a high PM2.5 concentration in its air and there is a lot of smoke pollution is added to it.

One of the major reasons for smoke pollution is obviously vehicular emission while the abundance of roadside eateries is also to blame.

Of course, the situation accentuates in the winter but the problem is already becoming a year-round issue.

Unfortunately, Kolkata has lost a significantly large percentage of open spaces in the last 3 decades because of various factors. Rapid urbanisation has depleted a lot of open spaces and currently, less than 10% area can be called open spaces. This surely hinders unobstructed airflow and polluted air accumulates in Kolkata.

The other major factor to blame is the large number of old and diesel vehicles in Kolkata. Nearly 54 percent of these vehicles are old and highly polluting, and 55 percent are diesel-driven.

There are also nearly 20,000 roadside eateries in Kolkata using coal to cook food. The roadside eateries are using poor-quality non-cooking coal (which is banned). Coal contributes 26% to Kolkata’s air pollution.

Kolkata is Concerned about Pollution but More Needs to be Done

Kolkata is quite progressive in its thinking. It is one of the pioneering cities in India which took lead in controlling air pollution by controlling cracker-bursting on Diwali. Medical professionals of Kolkata constantly remind us about the dangers of heightened air pollution levels, especially to children, the aged, and patients with respiratory diseases such as COPD.

Kolkata authorities must recognize it as a serious menace and fight this on a war footing.

The government must fight the problem on a few fronts. Although it is constrained with a moderate 10% road space in Kolkata, it must ensure smooth traffic movement. Regular repair of potholes, especially after the rainy season, eliminating obstructions from the roads, and better traffic management systems (an AI-controlled one is a good option) can be good steps that can be taken.

The other step is to check vehicles for pollution far more rigorously. It is not unusual to watch smoke-belching cars, cabs, and buses in Kolkata. It is important to stringently check vehicles, especially diesel vehicles which also emit nitrogen oxides besides carbon particles, and any default should be punished.

It is imperative that the government must continue focused communication on this issue to make the citizens aware and derive citizen actions.

The good news is that the West Bengal government drawing up an action plan to clean Kolkata city’s air, recognising the substantial contribution of coal or wood-fired ovens and road dust to air pollution. The action plan includes the provisions of supplying LPG cylinders to food vendors who use coal or wood-fired ovens for cooking, deployment of water-sprinkling vehicles to rein in road dust, penalising garbage burning in the open, and cracking down on vehicles that are over 15-years-old and plying illegally.

It is Every Citizen’s Problem

This problem must be tackled by every citizen and they must become environment soldiers. Depending only on government action is never enough.

It is the responsibility of car owners to ensure that their cars do not pollute the environment. Bad air quality hurts everyone’s health.

Besides, protecting greenery and planting more trees as a social movement are other important steps. Working with authorities, citizens can protect trees in every locality from illegal felling and plant more trees, and more importantly, take care of the plants which often die soon after planting for lack of care.

Stop patronizing coal-based eateries and educate them. Coal-based eateries can easily upgrade to LPG-based ones under customers’ pressure. The amount of profit they make by continuing is not huge and can be easily recovered by increasing the product prices by very small percentages.

Shunning firecrackers, coordinating with infrastructure development agencies for reducing PM2.5 dust spreading are other major measures citizens can adopt.

There are already encouraging signs that citizens are concerned (did we not adjust to the Kolkata Book Fair shift from Maidan for dust pollution?) and a little help from the government and NGOs can bring about substantial changes.

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