Time-bound action plan for curbing air pollution

Air quality has a strong bearing on Jammu and Kashmir’s ability to sustain high economic growth, but the state policy has treated the issue with scant importance. This is evident even from the meager data on pollution generated by the ambient air quality measurement programme. A new report indicates that people living in some parts of Jammu and Kashmir are at greater risk for health problems linked to deteriorating air quality than those living in China.
The measurements for Aerosol Optical Depth, which have been used to assess the level of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) that gets lodged deep in the lungs, point to a worsening of air quality in Jammu in the 10-year period from 2005, particularly for Srinagar and Jammu cities. This finding matches Air Quality Index data for cities monitored by Jammu and Kashmir State Pollution Control Board (SPCB).
Quite simply, pursuing business as usual is not tenable, and the state has to act to enforce control mechanisms that will make the air safe to breathe. This has to begin with a more comprehensive system of real-time data collection, expanding the coverage from the present to all agglomerations with a significant population and economic activity, and within a given time frame. Putting the data in the public domain in an open format will enable multiple channels of dissemination, including apps created by the community for mobile devices, and build pressure on both policymakers and polluters. High levels of particulate matter in Jammu and Srinagar cities arise from construction and demolition activity, burning of coal, as also biomass, and from the widespread use of diesel vehicles, among other sources. The Ministry of Forest has six-year-old data that attribute about 23 per cent of particulates to construction activity in twin cities of Jammu and Srinagar.
The onus of curbing pollution from these sources is on the state government, and evidently they are not taking their responsibility seriously. Greater transparency in data dissemination and public awareness hold the key to change. Technological solutions to contain construction dust are equally critical, as is the low-cost solution of covering all urban surfaces with either greenery or paving.
Widespread burning of biomass for cooking can be avoided if the state government encourages innovation in solar cookers. Cheap, clean-burning stoves can have a dramatic effect as well. The transformation through good public transport and incentives for the use of cycles and electric vehicles which Jammu and Kashmir is committed to achieve will reduce not merely particulate matter but also nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide.
There is little doubt that the worsening air quality in Jammu and Kashmir is already affecting the lives of the very young and the elderly, and reducing labour productivity. J&K needs a time-bound
action plan.
The new government should be committed to enforcing this plan and ensuring that Jammu as well as Srinagar, the twin cities do not become dark tunnels of pollution. State government should immediately take all possible practical steps.

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