Resident activists in Bengaluru, whose protests and litigations had led to the Graphite India factory in their neighbourhood shutting down, now stand vindicated. New data shows that the air quality in the area has improved since the factory shut down.
The residents had been protesting for years over the decreasing air quality in the locality, which was largely due to pollutants released into the air by the factory. The factory was then shut down earlier this year after a National Green Tribunal order and lack of consent from the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board.
Now, an air quality data comparison conducted by a citizen-led air quality system has found that on an average, the air quality in the area is 40% better, as compared to the time when the factory was functional.
Shiv Shankar, Founder of Mapshalli.org and a volunteer at Whitefield Rising, said, “We compare the data in two ways. For one, we look at what the data of the pollution levels are, for example, for an area in June 2019 and compare it with the previous year." Mapshalli.org was started in 2016 as part of a citizen's initiative to track air quality at a local level using low-cost digital air quality monitors.
“We found even though monsoon started late and lasted for a longer time this year, we see the air quality much cleaner, close to 40% better this year. The second comparative study is how the Graphite India location fare vis-a-vis another location (which we use as a benchmark) in Whitefield for the same time period. So earlier when the factory was open, there was a 123% difference, now compared to the same location the change is not much," Shiv Shankar added.
Their system analyses PM 2.5, which is the key constituent of pollutants. PM 2.5 particles are pollutants that measure 2.5 micro-meters or less in diameter and are dangerous as they are suspended in air, not weighed down, and can travel through blood stream and settles in heart, brain, and kidneys.
The concerted efforts by Whitefield Rising, the resident-activist group spearheading the fight against the company, was also instrumental in ensuring the company pays Rs 50 lakh as compensation as per the 'polluters pay' principle after a Supreme Court hearing on the matter.
Aishwarya Sudhir, Air Quality Program Lead at 'Healthy Air Coalition' at the European non-profit Health & Environment Alliance, said, “It is important to note that at various locations across Whitefield and Varathur or its surroundings, the air pollution levels continue to be beyond safety limits. But the data shows that the pollution levels have decreased in the Graphite India area which means it is a huge victory for people and a clear sign that their efforts have resulted in cleaner air.”
Aishwarya also suggests that comprehensive, neighbourhood-level action like this needs to be prioritized when the city's 'Clean Air Action Plan' is yet to see the light of the day.
"Clear mapping of pollution hotspots needs to be done immediately and vulnerable groups need to be protected," she added.