As pollution continues to engulf the entire country, eventually it is raising its ugly head in the gateway to the Northeast – Guwahati  as well.  While a lot has been spoken about the notoriously high levels of pollution in Delhi, not much light has been thrown on the fact that Guwahati has earned the dubious distinction of having recorded one of the highest levels of black carbon concentration compared to some of the major Indian metro cities.

The high presence of both Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter (RSPM) and Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) in the air, often in excess of the permissible limits, is slowly but surely choking the city and its inhabitants.

The Pollution Control Board of Assam prepares an Air Quality Index on a monthly basis, wherein it categorises the pollution levels under different heads ranging between good and severe. The Index shows a disturbing trend, with PM 2.5, which consists of Black Carbon Pollutants, registering a monthly rise, particularly during winter months. In the month of December 2017, PM 2.5 was recorded to be as high as 257 ug/m3 , which is way beyond the safe limit of 60ug/m3.

The alarmingly high level of pollution is attributed mainly to vehicular emissions, particularly those with diesel engines, as well as poor traffic management, apart from the peculiar geographical location of the city. There are more than 4 lakh vehicles plying the city roads every day, and about 70% of them don’t have emission clearance certificates, emitting excessive amounts of black carbon into the atmosphere.

Considering the severity of the situation, a research team led by Dr Rajan Chakrabarty from Desert Research Institute in Nevada conducted a study in the Brahmaputra valley. The study revealed that Guwahati’s Black Carbon concentration touches 40 ug/m3, leading to an increased daily temperature of 2 degree Celsius, while the corresponding figures for metro cities like Delhi and Mumbai are merely 19 and 17.5 ug/m3.

A similar study was conducted by Professor Sharad Gokhale from IIT Guwahati, by installing measurement devices at 10 locations across Guwahati.  It was revealed in the study that high vehicular emission levels at various traffic junctions had created hotspots of pollution in the city, especially at AT Road near Hotel Vishwaratna, Lachit Nagar and Maligaon. The revelation is worrisome considering the fact that all these areas are commuted by 100’s and 1000’s of citizens on a daily basis, including kids who have a tender respiratory system.

Despite such frighteningly high levels of pollution, the Pollution Control Board of Assam is yet to monitor this dangerous pollutant on a regular basis.

Until and unless Black Carbon is recognized as a major pollutant in the city, coming up with a comprehensive strategy to deal with the menace seems far-fetched.

By Harsha Pareek

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