What is the reason for Kolkata AQI being among the highest in India?

“Do not forget to buy notun gurer sandesh, Shalu absolutely loves them.”

Sharmila told her husband Akash while he was going to market on a Sunday.

Winter has finally arrived in Kolkata. Kolkata loves its winter. It is the season of celebrations, fun, and frolic. And plum cakes, notun gur, and a variety of vegetables. But Sharmila gets worried this time every year because of her daughter Shalu. Poor Air Quality Index (AQI) takes its toll on her as she suffers from respiratory ailment.

Not only Sharmila’s daughter but a large number of Kolkata residents also get sick because of the high pollution level in Kolkata, especially in the winter.

The 2nd Most Polluted City in India

Kolkata has the unenviable reputation of being the second most polluted city in India. Kolkata is quite high (the lower the better).

As per IQAir, Kolkata city is the second Indian city in the world’s most polluted list and took the fourth spot with AQI at 196.

It is quite a disgrace for a city that prides itself as ‘The City of Joy’ and a city of excellent cultural ethos and quality of life.

It is intriguing why Kolkata has been one top polluted cities in India for years. Kolkata has become much cleaner over the years but air quality remains a concern.

High pollution level affects children and the old alike, and doctors’ chambers and hospitals get particularly crowded during this season.

Poor Quality Air is a Huge Health Hazard

Kolkata’s leading medical practitioners recently met on National Pollution Control Day and cautioned the public against possible health hazards of the plunging air quality.

Poor air quality is especially harmful for children as their growing lungs inhale five times more air than adults.

People are at high risk of respiratory disorders and other disorders due to rising air pollution. People also suffer from irritation in the eyes, sneezing, cough, allergies, and body rashes.

Most of the people suffering from respiratory diseases are not smokers. Many people are at risk of cancer.

Interestingly, Kolkata does not have any problem of stubble burning like Delhi. Delhi’s air quality starts deteriorating after Diwali because of stubble burning in Punjab.

Why is Kolkata’s air so polluted? What are the factors that contribute to the air pollution in Kolkata?

Let’s find out.

Factors that Lead to High Kolkata AQI

Many factors lead to air pollution in Kolkata. Some of these factors are as follows:

The main cause of pollution in Kolkata is transportation. Many old petrol and diesel vehicles are plying in the city. The city has an additional problem of the very old fleet of vehicles — nearly 54 percent of these are old and highly polluting, and 55 percent are diesel-driven. There is no check on these vehicles and they emit many harmful gases. According to sources over 95% of the pollution is caused due to diesel-based and commercial vehicles.

There is a also lot of public transport like autorickshaws, taxis, and buses which are in poor condition.

The city lacks openness and wide air flow pathways are absent. Kolkata has lost a significantly large percentage of open spaces in the last 3 decades because of various factors. Rapid urbanization has depleted a lot of open spaces and currently, less than 10% of the total area can be called open spaces. This surely hinders unobstructed airflow and polluted air accumulates in Kolkata.

Inadequate road space — less than 10% — is also another problem in Kolkata. Even though the city has fewer cars than Delhi — 0.4 million against Delhi’s 1.1 million, the result is the same – growing congestion and pollution.

Many thermal power plants are present in and around the city causing air pollution. The large number of small-scale industries in the city also contributes to pollution.

Trash burning is carried out regularly. There are huge dump yards where massive quantities of trash are being burned.

Besides, various construction activities spread pollutants in Kolkata. These are potent sources of fine particulates in the air.

Trees and greenery destruction are also major factors that worsen air quality in Kolkata.

How to Control Air Pollution in Kolkata

While the authorities must do their part, every citizen must realize that it is his/her problem. Poor air quality affects us all irrespective of class or financial status.

While the government must continue with environmental awareness development campaigns through mass media, the citizens must do their bit to have clearer air to breathe in. Kolkatans must use more public transport and pool cars while going to the workplace. Regular efforts at planting trees also help in spreading the message. The citizens must focus on green living as a way of life to minimize the effects of air pollution in Kolkata.

It is the responsibility of car owners to ensure that their cars do not pollute the environment. If the citizens use bicycles for traveling short distances, they will contribute to lower AQI.

Stop patronizing coal-based eateries and educate them. Coal-based eateries can easily upgrade to LPG-based ones under customers’ pressure.

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 that often die soon after planting for lack of care. The corporate sector should be encouraged to sponsor social forestry.

Kolkata is Taking Steps to Minimize Pollution

The good news?

Kolkata residents are progressive in thinking and aware of the issue. They are taking steps to solve the problem. Although overnight success is not possible, persevering on a defined can bring about significant changes.

Electric vehicles and buses are increasing in Kolkata and various new Metro routes will also reduce dependence on vehicles, thus reducing pollution. If more people use battery-operated transport like totorickshaws air quality will improve.

Already, coal-based eateries are on the way out.

Social tree plantation and corporate sponsorships of beautiful gardens are on the increase. Another encouraging sign is the enthusiasm of the residents to buy properties with widespread landscaping. Living in a gated community with considerable green cover, and waterbody is no longer a fancy proposition but a must-have.

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Manish Agarwal

Yes, very relevant subject for Kolkatans

Jus sharing – humidity of this zone adds to cost of maintaining hygiene, here

I would shift to public transport if cleanliness is a statute for the infrastructure, here

In fact, I would jog to my office, thrice a week


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