Will the hazy, smog-filled Chennai sky resolve on its own or is a special push needed for framing and implementing new guidelines?

Chennai air pollution Is it time the city has a separate policy to address the crisisPicture courtesy: Twitter/@Prabanch_Nath
news Air Pollution Thursday, November 07, 2019 - 08:28

Chennai’s encounter with hazy skies for the last few days has left citizens concerned as to whether Chennai will also go the Delhi way, where smog-filled skies are annual events. The cause for this concern is the troubling air quality levels recorded in various parts of the city over the last few days.

The particulate matter in the air over the state capital hovered above 100 ug/m3 on Wednesday. While the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) station in Adyar recorded a PM2.5 level of 128.71 ug/m3, the level at Manali was 122.05 ug/m3 as at 1.45 pm on Wednesday. These levels are multiple times higher than what is recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the ideal levels of PM2.5 levels in the air is 25 ug/m3 as an annual average. As per the CPCB, the acceptable levels of PM2.5 in the ambient air in India must be limited to 60 ug/m3. The levels of PM2.5 are important because the size of the pollutants are small and are capable of entering the human body and causing respiratory diseases.

State government in denial?

The government of Tamil Nadu and the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) have been consistently denying the smog in Chennai as an effect of Delhi’s air pollution.

Tamil Nadu Revenue Minister RB Udhayakumar had, on the sidelines of an event at the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) on Tuesday, said that the air quality levels in the city were safe. 

Revenue department secretary J Radhakrishnan on Tuesday told reporters that the government and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) have been monitoring the situation closely. “Please don’t fall for WhatsApp messages and rumours when it concerns disaster management. We are monitoring the issue and the TNPCB is also monitoring. We are also constantly in touch with the IMD,” he said.

These denials come after independent weather observers expressed concern over the polluted winds from Delhi being blown over Tamil Nadu, thanks to a circulation in the north Andaman Sea.

Chennai’s contribution is higher

Apart from the government establishments, there are others who pin a great share of blame in the current pollution over Chennai to the unchecked industries itself.

Shweta Narayan, the Coordinator of Healthy Energy Initiative India told TNM that pollution in Chennai has always been there, even on days other than around Deepavali and Bhogi. “If you ask those living in areas like Ennore and Manali, they would be having more bad air days than good days,” she said pointing out that this time the huge public outcry is because of the higher degree of awareness among the people and due to the media attention over Delhi pollution.

Is Delhi to be blamed? 

However, Shweta said that Delhi is not the sole reason for Chennai to witness hazy, smog-filled skies. “The current smog is a combination of two things. Weather conditions in Chennai have obviously intensified the visibility of pollution this time. But to say that it has nothing to do with Delhi would also not be right because we know that wind travels, but how much has travelled is hard to tell,” she says. She also asserted that it is not correct to blame the crop budding in Delhi for all the smog in Chennai since the city itself has its own sources of extremely polluting industries.

“Also when we pin the narrative as everything is from Delhi, it absolves the responsibility of the regulatory authorities to do anything locally. Our Ennore thermal power plants are unregulated. They are in violation of every possible regulatory norm and nobody is doing anything about it. Same with Manali and Kodungaiyur dump yard,” she pointed out, adding that the number of vehicles in Chennai is also a major cause for concern.

Tamil Nadu and the National Clean Air Programme

When asked if Chennai needs its own policy to tackle and address the issues of pollution, Shweta said that it is highly recommended to do so.

“Chennai does not have its own anti-pollution policy. In fact, there is a National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) launched by the Centre and as part of the programme, they have identified 102 non-attainment cities. Chennai is not there in the list,” she pointed out.

NCAP is a central government initiative launched earlier in 2019 which aims to formulate a national-level plan to tackle the increasing air pollution problem in the country. It is a five-year plan starting in 2019 with potential to be extended further since the impact of the measures deployed to address the air pollution is visible in the long term. As per the NCAP, non-attainment cities are cities that don't meet the pollution guidelines as to the Ambient Air Quality India (2011-2015) report and the World Health Organisation report 2014/2018.

According to the NCAP, only Thoothukudi from Tamil Nadu has found place in the list of non-attainment cities and hence framing the policy as per NCAP guidelines and implementing them will take place only in Thoothukudi.

Shweta is not convinced that Thoothukudi should be the only city in the list of non-attainment cities under the NCAP.

“Are they saying no other city in TN is eligible for a policy to curb pollution? Chennai  should be included as a non-attainment city and there must be a plan developed to deal with this, in consultation with the citizens,” she said. She also added that the goal must be to devise an inter-departmental plan to tackle pollution in consultation with all stakeholders including the public.



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