With the winter looming, the air pollution in Delhi, troubling even in the best of times, is about to become insufferable. As public pressure mounts for some visible action against pollution, the Kejriwal government will have to set its eyes upon tackling the menace of air pollution.
While vehicular pollution often gets registered in the public discourse, studies have shown that it is road dust which is the culprit number one. An IIT Kanpur report on delhi's pollution showed road dust is responsible for 56 per cent of PM 10 and 38 per cent of PM 2.5 emissions.
Road dust pollution takes a toll in varied ways. Its impact on health includes increase in stroke and ischemic heart disease, acute lower respiratory infection and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It also leads to lower visibility, thereby adversely affecting the traffic, further worsening pollution.
Thus, for any discourse about Delhi pollution to be fruitful, it is imperative that comprehensive measures to reduce road pollution be undertaken. Here are a few such measures that the Kejriwal government should take:
Vacuum cleaning and water spraying
Vacuum cleaning is among the most widely-adopted measures globally to reduce the road dust in circulation. Having committed to this promise, the Kejriwal government must follow up with proper resource allocation and action on the ground.
The sustainability and success of vacuum cleaning will also depend on properly designed contracts where those responsible for its execution match performance parametres.
While vacuum cleaning removes dust, spraying water helps keeping the dust floored so as to limit problems arising from airborne dust. This can be adopted at stretches that have unmetalled roads when the traffic is particularly bad.
Better road design and maintenance
Faulty road designs - wherein the road is not adequately sloped away from entre — give rise to drainage issues. This allows rainwater to stagnate on the road, leading to the asphalt disintegrating and the appearance of potholes.
|While vacuum cleaning removes dust, spraying water helps keeping the dust floored. Credit: Reuters|
Then water floats the fine particles (fines) upwards - from the soil beneath the road. During traffic, water and wind spread the fines as mud or dust. The irregular maintenance of roads worsens the problem as potholes persist and become still more potent sites for dust trapping.
Thus, better road maintenance is also a solution.
The government must also ensure that surface soil on unpaved roads is covered with gravel as it provides a hard cover, which protects the soil from vehicle wheels.
To accomplish this, the government must survey all the roads and identify and rectify such design faults. It must also pave sidewalks and plant grass along the medians and the central verges. This will bind the soil so it does not contribute to the dust.
Regulating construction activities
Construction activities are an important source of dust. This dust can be minimised by stricter standards with respect to dust generation and the control of construction activity. The penalty must be raised, but more importantly the enforcement, when the violation takes place, should be ensured by well-funded staffers who do a good job of applying modern technology.
Promoting collection of dust and its conversion into coarse sand
The problem of dust pollution along with the shortage of construction sand can together be solved if a viable model of dust collection, and conversion into coarse sand for construction, is created. If vacuum cleaning is done, collecting dust will not be the bottleneck.
So the focus should be on how to use this collected dust for construction activity. This calls for promoting research on how to bind the fine dust into coarse sand, which can address the crippling shortage of sand for construction as well as make it economically lucrative to collect dust, thus killing two birds with one stone.
In conclusion, the high price that Delhi continues to pay for uncontrolled air pollution means that addressing the crisis is not an option, but a compulsion before the government. In fact, it must figure among the top priorities of the Kejriwal government and — in that endeavour — tackling dust pollution is the need of the hour.