Air pollution on the rise in Kanpur, says latest CSE study

Kanpur, December 17, 2009: Efforts to reduce air pollution in Kanpur are in danger of being wasted, as pollution levels are once again creeping up in the city: says a latest analysis of recent air quality data done by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a New Delhi-based research and advocacy organisation.

The analysis was released here today at a public meeting titled Kanpur City Dialogue on Air Quality and Transportation Challenge: An Agenda for Action. The meeting wasjointly organised by the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board and CSE and was addressed by Bhure Lal, chairperson of the Supreme Court’s Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA). Kanpur-based pollution and urban governance experts, civil society representatives and media people attended the meet.

Said Anumita Roychowdhury, associate director, CSE and head of its air pollution control and transportation programme: “This public meeting has been organised to find solutions to the scary air pollution and mobility challenge facing Kanpur. This is part of the effort to engage with policymakers and people of the city to strengthen policy action on air pollution and urban mobility, and also share lessons from other cities like Delhi to chart the future course of action.”

CSE has also carried out a stakeholders’ perception survey in Kanpur to understand residents’ views on air pollution and mobility problems in the city. The survey results echo its analysis: 80 per cent of the respondents have said air pollution is worsening, and incidence of respiratory diseases, asthma and eye irritation is on the rise.

Addressing the gathering, Bhure Lal said, “Indian cities will have to strengthen pollution control regime, and also improve enforcement at the local level. In the absence of coordinated efforts, including stricter enforcement, pollution is likely to rise in the coming years due to the sheer increase in vehicle ownership.”

Growing haze: pollution levels rising again
In the past few years, Kanpur had taken steps to reduce pollution. It tightened emission norms of vehicles; strengthened the ‘pollution under control’ system with new equipment and norms for in-use vehicles; introduced a CNG programme targeting autos, tempos and buses; and phased out over 1,500 old vehicles. On the industrial front, the city authorities closed down 12 polluting industries and initiated other measures to clear the air.

But in spite of all these actions, pollution levels are on the rise. In the year 2000, the annual average level of respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM, or PM10) in the city stood at 211 microgram per cubic metre (mg/cum). The level dropped to 179-189 mg/cum during 2003-05. The upward swing is now noticeable – the annual average level jumped back to 212 mg/cum in 2008, which was 3.5 times higher than the standard. The levels can go higher this winter.

In a clear sign of pollution from vehicles, levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx), though still below the norm, have been increasing as well. Says Vivek Chattopadhyay, senior researcher, CSE: “The recent tightening of air quality standards by the Union ministry of environment and forests has changed the air quality profile of Kanpur. Locations like Sharda Nagar, Deputy ka Parao, Kidwai Nagar and Fazal Ganj continue to remain critically polluted with particulates; what’s more, nitrogen dioxide levels in all these locations have now moved from low to moderate levels.”

Studies have shown that about 60 per cent of the geographical area of the city has a pollution problem, with a highly polluted city core. This exposes a large number of people to very high pollution levels. The costs, says the CSE research, are high. Studies done by the GSVM Medical College and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) show lower lung function for people living in the Vikas Nagar and Juhilal Colony areas, than those living in cleaner environment. According to UPENVIS, 0.4 million disability adjusted life years are lost every year in Uttar Pradesh due to air pollution. This costs the state about Rs 2.6 billion.

Studies in the US show that an increase of only 10 mg/cum of particulate matter of less than 2.5 micron (PM2.5) can lead to significant increases in health risks. High exposure to PM2.5 is known to lead to increased hospitalisation for asthma, lung diseases, chronic bronchitis and heart damage. Long-term exposure can cause lung cancer. Rising level of nitrogen oxides can also have serious implications for respiratory diseases.

But it is also clear that if we act on time and improve the air quality, we can save lives and prevent illnesses. A study by the Usha Gupta Institute of Economic Growth and the Bhimrao Ambedkar College has estimated that collectively, Kanpur can save as much as Rs 213 million if it meets the air quality standards.

Bhure Lal warned, “Pollution control has to be an integral part of the urban growth process and must rest on precautionary and prevention principle to avert threat to public health.” 

From where is the pollution coming?
Most of the air pollution in Kanpur is coming from its rapidly growing number of vehicles, high levels of industrial activities and growing use of diesel generators, informs Chattopadhaya. Recent assessments by CPCB and Kanpur IIT show that 22 per cent of the killer particles are from vehicles and 33 per cent are from industry; 47 per cent of nitrogen oxides are from vehicles and 43 per cent from industry.

Vehicles are of very special concern because vehicle emissions take place within the breathing zone of the people. This increases daily exposure to deadly dose of toxins.

CSE researchers point out that there are early signs of a mobility crisis building up in Kanpur. With a 2.5-million strong population, Kanpur has 6,43,245 motorised vehicles. Every year, the city is registering 40,000 new vehicles; at least 100 two-wheelers and cars and 10 commercial vehicles are registered daily. Even though the vehicle numbers are a lot less than in Delhi, smaller and densely built Kanpur is getting increasingly congested.

Dependence on personal vehicles is rising steadily. Two-wheelers are 83 per cent of the fleet, while cars make up another 13 per cent. But people are now buying more cars: the annual growth rate of cars is higher (10 per cent) than that of two-wheelers (7 per cent).

As a result of this growing congestion, peak hour traffic is slowing down. Against the governed maximum speed of 40 km/hour, the average speed in Kanpur has plummeted to 17-20 km/hour and even slower. According to a 2008 study commissioned by the Union ministry of urban development, traffic volumes have exceeded the designed capacity of roads in more than 26 per cent of Kanpur’s road length. Some of the key roads which carry more traffic than designed include Meston Road, Canal Road, Halsey Road and the Kidwai Nagar Road near Ghantaghar.

Vehicles not only pollute the air; they also threaten energy security. In Kanpur, studies have shown that cars and two-wheelers together use up about 80 per cent of the total energy consumption of 0.1 million tonne of oil equivalent per year in the transport sector. If dependence on personal vehicles continues to increase, oil consumption will go up by three times by 2030. This is ominous for a country which imports 72 per cent of its crude oil.

Increasing energy use, in its turn, can hike emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) leading to more global warming. According to a recent air study done by New Delhi-based air pollution research and modeling body SIM Air, personal vehicles in Kanpur account for the highest CO2 emissions -- 84 per cent – in the transport sector.

What Kanpur needs to do
Kanpur’s strength is that it meets nearly 60 pent of its travel needs through the intermediate public transport system -- autos, tempos, cycle rickshaws, cycles, buses and walking. The majority of the city’s people still use sustainable forms of transport. Roychowdhury adds: “Kanpur must not repeat the mistakes that Delhi has made of following pro-car policies. Kanpur still has the chance to plan its future growth differently and avoid the path of pollution, congestion and energy-guzzling. More road space is not the answer. Cities need to redesign their existing space and travel pattern to provide the majority of the people affordable and efficient mode of transport that can be an alternative to personal vehicles. Kanpur must build on its strength.”

Keeping with this advice, CSE has suggested a detailed action plan to help Kanpur stem the tide (see Briefing Note). The broad outlines of this plan include:

  • Strengthening the CNG programme.
  • Introducing more advanced and cleaner vehicle technologies and fuels.
  • Implementing a transportation and mobility plan for the city which will encourage public transport systems and non-motorised transport.
  • Building pedestrian-friendly systems that can give an impetus to walking.
  • Introducing a parking policy to reduce congestion.

Roychowdhury says: “If Kanpur does not want to wheeze, choke and sneeze, then it has to act now. Its work with CNG shows that it can make a difference. It is time to set new terms of action.”

For more details, please get in touch with Vivek Chattopadhyay (, 099117 91243) or
Shachi Chaturvedi (, 098187 50007).