High air and water pollution in India’s 41 tier-II cities

Central Pollution Control Board finds that the waste treatment capacity of the cities barely covers 10% of their sewage


India’s apex pollution watchdog Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) monitors ambient air quality in 74 tier-II cities. 
Photo: Sakib Ali/HT
India’s apex pollution watchdog Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) monitors ambient air quality in 74 tier-II cities. Photo: Sakib Ali/HT

New Delhi: If you thought moving out of metro cities such as New Delhi and Mumbai can save you from pollution, think again. India’s 41 tier-II cities, including Tezpur, Rishikesh, Vapi, Angul, Sangrur and Gajraula, too are facing severe air and water pollution.

Starting this financial year, the government will spend Rs.553 crore across five years to bring down pollution. While only Rs.70 crore is allocated for the abatement of pollution in 2016-17, it is anticipated to more than double to Rs.150 crore in 2020-21.

The country’s apex pollution watchdog, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), monitors ambient air quality in 74 tier-II cities.

“Analysis of data shows that 41 cities exceed the ambient air quality standard. In addition, these cities are also facing problem of water pollution due to discharges of untreated sewage,” said Union minister for environment, forests and climate change Prakash Javadekar in Parliament on Tuesday, while replying to a query.

The CPCB estimated the sewage generation from these tier-II cities as 2,696.7 million litres per day (MLD), but their treatment capacity is not even 10% (only 233.7 MLD) of the total sewage generated, leaving a wide gap of 2,463 MLD.

“Also, water quality monitoring indicates that the rivers are polluted in downstream of major urban centres due to large-scale water abstraction and discharge of untreated/partially treated waste water and not meeting the criteria,” Javadekar added.

According to the minister, municipal corporations are largely unable to handle the entire sewage generated with the existing infrastructure.

The CPCB, along with State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs), monitors the status of pollution in cities under the National Air Quality Monitoring Programme and National Water Quality Monitoring Programme with a network of 612 stations and 2,500 locations, respectively.

The ministry has identified emission from automobiles, suspended dust, construction activities, industrial emissions and disposal of untreated and partially treated sewage as the main sources of the huge air and water pollution problem.

In the past few years, several studies have highlighted the problem of India’s increasing pollution levels—both air and water.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 13 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities in terms of air pollution are in India.

Though governments have taken some steps to curb pollution in Indian cities, they don’t seem to be enough.

Some of the steps taken to curb pollution include the setting up of a monitoring network for the assessment of ambient air and water quality, moving directly from BS-IV to BS-VI fuel standards by 1 April 2020, introduction of cleaner fuels such as CNG (compressed natural gas), action plan for sewage management and restoration of water quality in aquatic resources, amendments to various waste management rules, ban on burning leaves, promotion of public transport networks such as metro rail, buses, e-rickshaws and the promotion of car-pooling, among others.

Javadekar credits his ministry and state governments for such steps, stating that the level of pollution would have been worse in their absence.

“These steps have contributed in reducing pollution in Indian cities. But for the various steps taken by central government, state governments and Union territories and other agencies, the level of pollution would have been worse,” Javadekar said.

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