Tech can control Delhi’s pollution within years, says US professor
City: 

India-born Washington University professor Pratim Biswas believes Delhi’s notorious air pollution can be controlled and the fine particulate matter (PM) can be brought down to the normal level within a few years through use of technology.

Citing the case of St Louis, where the air pollution was controlled in 1940s by using technology, he said the example is still valid for Delhi. Biswas, who is chair, department of energy, environment and chemical engineering at Washington University, underlined a study which said there are four cities-- Gwalior, Allahabad, Patna and Raipur-- which are worse than Delhi in terms of PM2.5 on a normal day.

In an interview with Financial Chronicle, he said a deeper study on sources of air pollution in Delhi is needed because it is happening during a particular period of the year. He said the Washington University offers a study to understand major contributing sources using the latest instrumentation and data analysis tools to characterise and quantify sources and ambient levels.

PM2.5, whose safe limit is 60 micrograms, is more dangerous that PM 10 as it is a tiny particulate matter that reaches deep into the lungs and children are highly susceptible to it. On a normal day if Delhi has PM 2.5 level of 122 micrograms, Gwalior has 176 micrograms, Allahabad has 170 micrograms, Patna 149 micrograms and Raipur 144 micrograms.

When air in Delhi became very severe nearly two decades ago, the blame was put on vehicular pollution and CNG was introduced along with a ban on old diesel commercial vehicles. When it reappeared, the industry were shifted outside Delhi, later burning of fire crackers were regulated. Again it reappeared and the blame was on stubble burning. This year, a new cause was discovered – dust storm in the West Asia.

Asked about the real cause of Delhi’s pollution, he said: "There is no simple answer to this. There are many studies done on this. There are some data on the basis of which we can determine the causes. What you are talking about episodes of very high level of pollution. Unfortunately, the baseline is so high that is not healthy.

"What needs to be done is there are certain standards that Washington University has developed on the basis of which we have to find the major sources that cause the pollution. Episodes can happen, but if baseline is low, these can be tackled easily."

The government is not accurate as various scientists and agencies are telling different theories. Biswas said, adding that the technique will tell you which is the dominant source. A category called residential, which includes stubble burning and poor people burning different stuff to beat cold in winter which are uncontrolled. This can be tackled with use of standards and technology, he added.

"We have proposed to partner with IIT-Delhi to create a metlogue of high quality so there is no confusion. The government should support it and even if it does not, it could be done. We have already planned that to do with IIT-Delhi. We will bring some novel instruments which are not there in India. That will pin point the sources" he said.

He said "it is very important now to controll the pollution. With measurements and controlling, we can find out in short order that it is making a difference. It could be in the neighbouhood and then it can scaled up. If you do it in a neighbourhood and pollution still does not change, then we know something is wrong. Then you not need to scale up."

Biswas also suggested that farmers should be rewarded for not resorting to stubble burning. Crop residues can be used as biomass in controlled burning system and extract the energy.
PM2.5, whose safe limit is 60 micrograms, is more dangerous that PM 10 as it is a tiny particulate matter that reaches deep into the lungs and children are highly susceptible to it. On a normal day if Delhi has PM 2.5 level of 122 micrograms, Gwalior has 176 micrograms, Allahabad has 170 micrograms, Patna 149 micrograms and Raipur 144 micrograms.

When air in Delhi became very severe nearly two decades ago, the blame was put on vehicular pollution and CNG was introduced along with a ban on old diesel commercial vehicles. When it reappeared, the industry were shifted outside Delhi, later burning of fire crackers were regulated. Again it reappeared and the blame was on stubble burning. This year, a new cause was discovered – dust storm in the West Asia.

Asked about the real cause of Delhi’s pollution, he said: "There is no simple answer to this. There are many studies done on this. There are some data on the basis of which we can determine the causes. What you are talking about episodes of very high level of pollution. Unfortunately, the baseline is so high that is not healthy.

"What needs to be done is there are certain standards that Washington University has developed on the basis of which we have to find the major sources that cause the pollution. Episodes can happen, but if baseline is low, these can be tackled easily."

The government is not accurate as various scientists and agencies are telling different theories. Biswas said, adding that the technique will tell you which is the dominant source. A category called residential, which includes stubble burning and poor people burning different stuff to beat cold in winter which are uncontrolled. This can be tackled with use of standards and technology, he added.

"We have proposed to partner with IIT-Delhi to create a metlogue of high quality so there is no confusion. The government should support it and even if it does not, it could be done. We have already planned that to do with IIT-Delhi. We will bring some novel instruments which are not there in India. That will pin point the sources" he said.

He said, "With measurements and controlling, we can find out in short order that it is making a difference.”

Columnist: 
Prabhudatta Mishra