City action - Hyderabad: CSE conducts city dialogue on air quality and transportation challenges, proposes agenda for action

Hyderabad, October 7, 2010: In 2003, Hyderabad started taking steps to contain its air pollution. As a result, PM 10 levels dipped from 72 microgramme per cubic metre (mg/cum) to 66 mg/cum.

  • Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a New Delhi-based research and advocacy organisation, releases its analysis of air quality and transportation data in Hyderabad. Finds increased levels of particulate pollution and crippling signs of mobility crisis.

  • Hyderabad may lose out on the benefits it had derived from its first generation reforms, says the analysis.

  • Recently introduced new and more stringent air quality standards mean more areas marked by higher pollution levels. Survey captures public anguish in the city.

  • Hyderabad needs second generation action, including rapid implementation of CNG programme, scaling up of public transport, integrated multi-modal transport options, car restraints and walking.

Hyderabad, October 7, 2010: In 2003, Hyderabad started taking steps to contain its air pollution. As a result, PM 10 levels dipped from 72 microgramme per cubic metre (mg/cum) to 66 mg/cum. But in 2009-10, the spectre of elevated air pollution and traffic congestion has come back to haunt the city. Hyderabad, in fact, is in imminent danger of losing out on the gains of its first generation air pollution reforms -- says an analysis of recent air quality data done by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a New Delhi-based research and advocacy organisation.

The CSE analysis also points out that the recent tightening of the air quality standards by the Union ministry of environment and forests has changed the air quality profile of Hyderabad. Locations in the city which were categorised ‘moderately polluted’ under the earlier norms, have spiralled into the ‘critically polluted’ category now, while other sites have moved from ‘low pollution’ to the moderate level. 

The analysis, which will form a part of a Citizen’s Report to be brought out very soon by CSE, was released here today at a public meeting and round table conference titled Hyderabad City Dialogue on Air Quality and Transportation Challenge: An Agenda for Action.

The meeting was jointly organised by the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board (APPCB) and CSE. It was addressed by Bhure Lal, chairperson of the Supreme Court’s Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA); Janaki R. Kondapi, special chief secretary (Environment, Forest, Science & Technology), government of Andhra Pradesh; K Madhusudana Rao, member secretary, APPCB; and other Hyderabad-based pollution and urban governance experts and civil society representatives. The media was also briefed on this occasion.

Speaking on the occasion, Anumita Roychowdhury, associate director, CSE and head of its air pollution control and transportation programme, said: “This public meeting and round table conference has been organised to enhance the action plan for reducing the pollution and congestion levels in the city, by sharing lessons from other cities like Delhi which have similar experiences.”

The case of Hyderabad: in the grip of pollution and mobility crisis
Most of the air pollution in Hyderabad is coming from its rapidly growing number of vehicles. The city has 2.6 million vehicles. Every year, 0.2 million new vehicles are registered – which means 500-600 new vehicles come on to Hyderabad’s roads every day! Estimates indicate that the traffic is growing four times faster than the population, a phenomenon which is common across all metros of the country.

Recent modal share data released by Wilbur Smith Associates for the Union ministry of urban development shows that compared to other metros, dependence on personal vehicles – especially two wheelers -- is quite high in Hyderabad. The city crawls -- against the governed maximum 40 to 50 kilometre per hour (kmph), average peak hour traffic speed in Hyderabad has plummeted to 10 to 20 kmph, and is even slower at some stretches.

What’s worse, studies show that average journey speed is consistently dipping. In 1981, it was 17 kmph; by 2006, it had come down to 12 kmph. The central business district gets bogged down with 50,000 to 60,000 passenger car units per day – a figure which is comparable to that of Delhi. According to the Hyderabad City Development Plan, traffic volumes in the core areas of the city often exceed the designed capacity of the roads.

All this, say CSE researchers, are sure signs of a mobility crisis getting stronger in Hyderabad. Points out Vivek Chattopadhyaya, deputy coordinator, CSE’s Air Pollution Control Unit: “Compared to Delhi, the vehicle numbers in Hyderabad are a lot less. But the city is smaller and densely built, and therefore, it is getting increasingly congested, gridlocked and polluted.”

Hyderabad residents echo these concerns. Along with its study, CSE has also carried out a stakeholders’ perception survey in Hyderabad to understand its residents’ views on air pollution and mobility problems in the city. According to this survey, 82 per cent of the respondents believe air pollution is worsening in Hyderabad, while more than 90 per cent have identified congestion as a key problem that the city faces today.

According to the CSE analysis, from the time the first phase of action to control emissions was initiated in the city, Hyderabad has seen stabilisation but subsequently an increase in its average annual PM 10 levels – from 66 mg/cum in 2003 to 80 mg/cum in 2009. This is about 1.3 times higher than the standard for a high pollution zone, according to the air quality classification followed by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

However, the city’s average levels do not reflect the unfolding crisis in different locations of Hyderabad. For instance, Paradise, Charminar, CITD Balanagar and Uppal have recorded annual PM 10 levels in the range of 106 mg/cum to 119 mg/cum – the ‘critical range’ as indicated in CPCB’s classification system. Monitoring of PM 10 levels near the Charminar shows 80 per cent of days exceeding the 24-hourly standard – reflecting high exposure of populations to deadly particles on a day to day basis.

While levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx) have been found to be consistently decreasing in the city, locations such as Charminar and Paradise have indicated relatively higher levels: about 34 mg/cum (the standard is 40 mg/cum). Very limited data on ozone shows levels exceeding standards this summer. Says Roychowdhury: “Both NOx and ozone must be evaluated more carefully. NOx catayses reaction between a range of volatile hydrocarbons under the influence of sunlight to form ozone, a very harmful pollutant.” 

Assessment of air toxics like aldehyde as formaldehyde (a suspected human carcinogen) across six locations in Hyderabad has revealed that its levels are the highest in Mehadipatnam: 32.7 mg/cum. The available data on benzene – another carcinogen -- in ambient air between July 2009 and June 2010 shows that the monthly average levels (of one hourly averages) despite dropping after the control of benzene in petrol, still exceed the annual average limit of 5 mg/cum set by the CPCB. During winter months, the levels may reach 8 mg/cum.
CSE cautions that following the introduction of more stringent air quality standards, the air quality profile of several locations in Hyderabad has undergone a transformation. The CSE analysis says that while particulate pollution in locations like Nacharam has turned from low to moderate, the status of CITD Balanagar and Uppal has changed from moderate to critical level; locations such as Paradise and Charminar continue to remain critically polluted. About 66 per cent of the monitoring locations of the city – reported under the National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme – are witnessing a high pollution problem.

At risk: public health
In Hyderabad, various studies have attempted to look at the relation between rising air pollution levels and health problems. The APPCB, in a study conducted from 1998 to 2000 to relate ground-level RSPM and CO at the main traffic nodes in Hyderabad to ventilatory defects of residents, found a higher prevalence of heart attacks in the 30-40 year age group. Another supportive drug off-take study was conducted by doctors of SVS Medical College to gather data on 56 different drugs being sold within a 5-km radius of air quality monitoring stations at five of the most polluted zones in the city. It showed that since 1998, the highest drug sales had been registered in Punjagutta and Abids zones – both have recorded the highest PM 1 and PM 10 levels.

In 2000, researchers of the Clinical Immunology and Biochemistry Department of the LV Prasad Eye Institute studied the impact of air pollutants on traffic police, who are at particularly high risk due to the nature of their job. They found that exposure to air pollutants was resulting in an imbalance in the oxidant-antioxidant system, leading to lung damage and respiratory problems.

A study done by the Institute of Health Systems has found that the transportation sector is the largest contributor to air emissions (about 70 per cent of the total load) in Hyderabad. The study also suggested that an effective bus transit mitigation scenario resulted in a one-third reduction of PM 10 concentration (compared to BAU levels) and significant decreases in mortality and respiratory diseases.

What should Hyderabad do: an agenda for second generation action
CSE experts point out that it is time to set new terms of action in Hyderabad. Only the compulsion to meet the clean air targets can deepen public understanding of what it takes to protect public health. Only this can build public support for aggressive action as well as long-term sustainability of the city.

Despite its growing fleet of personal vehicles, Hyderabad still meets over 70 per cent of its travel needs through public transport and non-motorised transport. Says Roychowdhury: “Even today, maximum number of people in Hyderabad – nearly 73 per cent -- take a bus, walk, or use intermediate public transport. Car trips are only 9 per cent. This is Hyderabad’s strength and opportunity – the fact that the majority of its residents depend on more sustainable forms of transport. Hyderabad must not make the mistakes that Delhi has made.”

She adds: “Despite having over 21 per cent of its space allocated to roads, Delhi remains gridlocked, with cars and two-wheelers occupying 90 per cent of its space but meeting less than 20 per cent of its travel demand. Bus ridership in Delhi has plummeted from 60 per cent in the early part of the decade to 43 per cent in 2008.”

Says Chattopadhyaya: “Soft options are all exhausted in our cities. Reducing personal vehicle usage, upgrading public transport, walking and cycling, and leapfrogging vehicle technology are the key options left for us. Scale and stringency of action and enforcement are needed for effective impact and to meet clean air target.” In its analysis, CSE has suggested a detailed action plan to help Hyderabad stem the tide. The broad outlines of this plan include:

  • Strengthen air quality monitoring systems: As per the new ambient air quality standards, the city must spruce up its monitoring facilities to generate rigorous data on PM 2.5, ozone, and the critical air toxics. This should be supported by an assessment of the pollution sources and public health impacts. Hyderabad should also develop a daily public information system on air quality for pollution emergency action.

  • Expedite CNG-based public transport programme: The CNG programme, linked with an expanded bus transport system, is an important strategy for leapfrogging to cleaner emissions. Hyderabad has an opportunity to implement this programme. But infrastructure delays have put this strategy at risk. The city needs a stringent timeline for expanding the refuelling infrastructure.

  • Scale up public transport: Hyderabad has taken the lead to build its multi-modal transport system. But the network needs scale, integration and reliability. Its bus transport, that carries the maximum number of passengers in the city – 42 per cent -- will need scaling up. Hyderabad authorities must put the buses in dedicated lanes for speed, frequency and reliability and to make the system attractive. The city must accelerate bus transport reforms.

  • Ensure multi-modal integration: Hyderabad is a unique example and the only city so far to have introduced integrated ticketing. This is needed to improve public transport usage. The city now must work on more holistic and design integration of the bus, rail, cycling, walking and para-transit systems.  

  • Build pedestrian infrastructure: Pedestrian infrastructure has a very poor rank. The city should legally mandate reformed pedestrian guidelines for approval of road projects and enhancement of the existing ones. It should make walkability audits mandatory. Without proper walking facilities, public transport usage cannot increase.

  • Introduce a parking policy to reduce congestion and demand for parking: Hyderabad must prevent on-street parking, use parking revenues to build other transport options and price parking to reduce personal vehicle use. Parking policy needs to be mandated as a demand management tool.

  • Improve and enforce emissions checks on in-use vehicles: The city must improve on its vehicle inspection systems and remove visibly smoking vehicles from the roads. Hyderabad has already taken the lead in piloting networking of the PUC centres.

  • Strengthen green tax: The city must reduce taxes on public transport buses, and enhance green tax on personal vehicles. A dedicated urban transport fund must be created.

  • Expedite city mobility plan and reform agenda: This should be done under the JNNURM programme for effective time-bound action.

If Hyderabad does not want to wheeze, choke and sneeze all through its existence, it has to act now. The city’s first generation work shows that it has the capacity to make a difference.

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For more on this, please contact:
•    Vivek Chattopadhyaya, 9911791243,