Kolkata residents breathe in air which has 3-5 times higher pollution levels than the ambient level that is already several times higher than the permissible limit. Action must gather momentum, says CSE's Kolkata study

  • Kolkata is in the grip of rising air pollution and multi-pollutant crisis. Official ambient air quality monitoring has shown 61 per cent increase in particulate matter in just four years (2010 to 2013). The levels exceed standards by 2.7 times. NO2 levels exceed by close to two times

  • CSE exposure monitoring provides clinching evidence of alarming dose that an average Calcuttan breathes on a daily basis in different parts of the city – 2 to 3 times higher than the ambient level recorded by official monitors

  • With growing vehicle numbers and resultant congestion and dieselisation, air pollution is a growing concern in the city

  • The city is losing its inherent advantage of dominant commuting practices – use of bus and walking – at the cost of clean air and public health

  • Kolkata, like Delhi and other Indian cities, needs second generation action, including leapfrogging emissions standards to Euro VI, curbing dieselisation, scaling up of integrated public transport, car restraints and walking for clean air and public health

Kolkata, January 30, 2016: New Delhi-based research and advocacy agency Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has analysed the official ambient air quality monitoring in Kolkata. Also over the week, CSE’s air quality team conducted an exposure monitoring in the city to know how much pollution in air every Kolkata resident is exposed to. And the findings, released here today in a stakeholder dialogue, are startling.

CSE’s own monitoring, done during the last week of January 2016, has found extremely high levels of exposure in a city where ambient concentrations are already very high. CSE’s exposure monitoring provides clinching evidence of the alarming dose that an average Calcuttan breathes on a daily basis in different parts of the city – 2 to 3 times higher than the ambient level recorded by official monitors.

 “Kolkata, while having made some strides in meeting air quality challenges, faces newer challenges. We have found that direct exposure to toxic fumes is very high in the city. Kolkata needs a technology leapfrog, scaling up of public transport, integrated multi-modal transport options, car restraints and walking for clean air,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, Executive Director, Research and Advocacy, CSE and the head of the Centre’s air pollution control campaign.

Today’s stakeholder dialogue workshop in Kolkata was aimed at putting CSE’s findings in the public domain. CSE has a long history of having campaigned for better air quality in India’s cities, especially Delhi. The Centre has conducted similar monitoring exercises in Delhi and the results had been equally startling (to know more, please visit CSE’s website www.cseindia.org).

The key highlights of the CSE assessment of air quality challenges in the city

What does the official ambient monitoring show?

High pollution levels in cities of West Bengal: CSE’s has analysed the data from the official ambient monitoring reported by the Central Pollution Control Board and West Bengal State Pollution Control Board. Official monitoring shows that particulate levels (PM10) in 78 per cent of cities in West Bengal exceed the standards. All cities exceed the NO2 standard.

Kolkata is in the grip of rising air pollution: Official ambient air quality monitoring has shown 61 per cent increase in particulate matter in just four years (2010 to 2013). The levels exceed standards by 2.7 times. NO2 levels have increased by 13 per cent during these four years. The current NO2 levels exceed standards by close to two times. West Bengal Pollution Control Board has online monitors at Victoria Memorial station and Rabindra Bharati station.  PM10 data shows high night time pollution. Regular data on PM2.5 levels are not available but the average daily PM2.5 levels recorded at the American Consulate at 170 µg/m³ is three times the daily standard of 60 µg/m³.

Growing threat -- nitrogen oxide: Nitrogen oxide exceeds standards by 1.8 times. This also contributes to ozone pollution.

Some wins: Sulphur dioxide levels are under control largely because of change in energy mix and reduced use of coal in cities. But Kasba, Dalhousie and Cossipore experience violation of short term standards

Winter trauma: Every year pollution levels rise very rapidly in winter due to low wind speed, low temperature and inversion trap pollution. In winter, particulate levels can be as high as four times the standards. Application of National Air Quality Standards show that November onwards more days fall in the air quality categories of poor, very poor and severe. This enhances public health risk. This also requires pollution emergency measure that Delhi has started to enforce.

Densely populated pollution hotspots in the city: The Central Pollution Control Board has classified all the following locations as ‘’critically polluted” --- Salt Lake, Moulali, Minto Park, Dunlop Bridge, Behala Chowrasta, Baishnabghata, Cossipore Police Station, B.T. Road, Dalhousie Square, Lal Bazzar Police Headquarter, Kasba.

The air in Kolkata’s has high levels of air toxins that are cancer-causing: these toxins are dangerous even in very small doses – benzo(a)pyrene, benzene, carbonyl etc.  

What does CSE’s exposure monitoring show?
CSE used a state-of-the-art portable air quality monitoring machine to track how much pollution an individual in Kolkata is exposed to while travelling or in different locations. This Dustrak Aerosol Monitor measures the mass and size fraction of the particulate matter. The monitoring was done in various land use areas, including sensitive areas like hospitals, schools, and residential areas. The monitoring was also done on different transport modes including walking, bus, car and auto. This exposure has also been compared with the background ambient levels monitored by the West Bengal Pollution Control Board. As regular data on PM2.5 is not available from West Bengal Pollution Control Board for all days, the data from the real-time monitoring by the American Consulate has also been considered to understand the background ambient level in the city.

It may be noted that the official ambient air quality monitoring indicates the overall air quality of the city and change over time. This is different from exposure monitoring that captures the level of pollution that people are exposed to due to closeness to different pollution sources in their immediate surrounding. This has a direct impact on public health. A recent draft report of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on air pollution and health has emphasized on the importance of addressing direct exposure to air pollution in micro environment. 

Very high personal exposure: CSE’s monitoring in the last week of January 2016 has found extremely high levels of exposure even when overall ambient pollution in the background has been relatively low. On days when ambient data shows the average ambient PM2.5 levels in the city to be in the range of 117 to 243 microgramme per cubic metre (28/01/16), the actual exposure levels in the city were 161 to 518 microgramme per cubic metre that is 1 to 2 times higher than the background ambient levels.

Pollution hotspots inside the city: Several localities inside the city show hotspot trends in their hourly average. Park Street in the evening recorded 418 microgramme per cubic metre; Ballygunge early evening recorded 418 microgramme per cubic metre; Salt Lake during evening recorded 349 microgramme per cubic metre; New Market area during night to morning for twelve hours recorded 307 microgramme per cubic metre. This also shows air pollution is high across all neighbourhoods, exposing both poor and the rich to toxic effects.

Walkers and public transport users – who are part of the solution – are inhaling very high pollution in Kolkata. AC car users are also not safe: There is a strong variation in exposure depending on the mode of transport. Open modes like walking, open buses and autos show very high level of exposure. While travelling by tram, a person is exposed to 396 microgramme per cubic metre, while walking 343 microgramme per cubic metre, in a bus 256 microgramme per cubic metre, in a cycle rickshaw 225 microgramme per cubic metre, in a Taxi 218 microgramme per cubic metre and lowest in the metro - 197 microgramme per cubic metre. These are very high exposures. 

Sensitive areas show high levels: Exposure monitoring near schools and hospitals indicate very high levels. Govt College of Art and Craft -JLN Road recorded 294 microgramme per cubic metre, High school – Behala 222 microgramme per cubic metre, Housing society 235 microgramme per cubic metre, Peerless Hospital 201 microgramme per cubic metre, SSKM Hospital 327 microgramme per cubic metre. All educational, residential areas, hospital areas show high exposure. This uses up most of the quota when compared with the 24-hourly average standard for PM2.5 of 60 microgramme per cubic metre.

High levels in open recreational areas during winter: One of the highest levels noted during early morning near Rabindra Sarobar Lake, a prominent recreation place where people throng for morning fitness. Exposure monitoring carried out during early hours in Rabindra Sarobar Lake in South Kolkata showed very high exposure levels – as high as 518 microgramme per cubic metre. This is due to winter inversion, high moisture and low mixing height of air that trapped the high pollution of the city. This only brings out the irony of morning fitness drills in a polluted environment. 

High night time pollution during winter: The pollution peaks during night and early morning are higher than the day time peak. Overall pollution levels during night have been five times higher than the standard.

High health risk: According to the Comprehensive Mobility Plan, Kolkata, around 70 per cent of Kolkata’s 18 million inhabitants suffer from respiratory problems such as asthma and lung cancer, which are caused by pollution from the city’s chaotic transport sector. Studies carried out by Chittaranjan National Cancer Research Institute have found more than 60 per cent children in Kolkata with lung function impairments compared to 24 per cent in cleaner areas. Healthy individuals and non-smokers also show respiratory symptoms and lung function impairment. 

Kolkata needs to curb pollution from all sources including industry, trash burning, construction dust, road dust among others to meet clean air target. But vehicles need special attention

People’s exposure to vehicle exhaust is 3 to 4 times higher than the world average: Scientists now assess how different sources of pollution influence what we breathe depending on the proximity to pollution sources. The population-weighted intake fraction, or the grams of vehicle pollution inhaled per grams of vehicle pollution emitted in Kolkata, is 4 times higher than the world average – highest among all the key Indian metro cities studied by the scientists of University of California, Berkeley.  In terms actual exposure, people will be more vulnerable to vehicular fumes. In densely populated cities, more than 50-60 per cent of the population lives or works near the roadside where levels are much higher.

Motorisation trends in Kolkata – different from other cities: Compared to other Metro cities vehicular growth is comparatively lower in Kolkata. There was even a decline from 2007 to 2010. Then again the vehicular registration started increasing gradually and, subsequently, rapidly. Numbers increased by 8 per cent in 2011, 11 per cent in 2012 and 158 per cent in 2013. This is evident from the data published by Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. Immediate explanation of this trend is not available.

Explosive increase in personal vehicles – cars and two-wheelers: Since 2011, the number of both two-wheelers and cars has increased rapidly. In fact, between 2007 and 2013 two-wheelers increased by 28 per cent and cars by 25 per cent. In 2012-13, two-wheelers increased by 168 per cent and cars by 120 per cent.   

Diesel capital of India: A study carried out by researchers of University of Kolkata in 2013 shows that in contrast to the national trend, new diesel cars are 65 per cent of new car sales in Kolkata. Statistics have established the rising popularity of diesel cars. Diesel constitutes 45 per cent of total oil consumption by car users. About 99 per cent of commercial vehicles in Kolkata are diesel driven.  This is a very serious concern as the WHO has classified diesel emissions as class 1 carcinogen for its strong link with lung cancer – putting it in the same class as tobacco smoking. Diesel also contributes hugely to tiny particles and rising NOx levels in the city.

Congestion crisis: Cities are paying a very high price for congestion. Traffic jams lead to fuel wastage, more pollution and serious economic losses. Usual commuting time has increased significantly during peak hours. On many arterial roads, traffic volume has exceeded the designed capacity and the service level of the road. 

A study by Switch On has shown that cars cater to only 6 per cent of the passengers but occupy 29 per cent of road space while buses serve 76 per cent of the population and occupy only 32 per cent of road space. More studies in Kolkata have shown that delay on different corridors of Kolkata range from 20 minutes to about 60 minutes. Centre for Urban Economic Studies, University of Calcutta, has estimated that Rs. 74,077.66 is lost in only two peak hours on a few selected roads daily. The annual loss in monetary terms would be as high as Rs. 2.7 core. 

Yet – Kolkata meets one of the best benchmarks for sustainable mobility: The Census 2011 for Kolkata has given interesting insight into the way people travel in the city. An astounding 89 per cent walk and use public transport. Compared to other cities, Kolkata has the maximum share of walk trips -39 per cent. More than one-fourth of the working population commutes to work on foot; nearly  one-third work from home. Nearly half of the working population commute by bus, bicycle, train and IPT. The rest commute by private mode and other modes.

Benefits of compact city design: The compact urban form of Kolkata keeps trips length short and at human scale. As much as 31 per cent of trips are in the distance range of 2-5 km; 29 per cent in 6-10 km range. About 22 per cent of the trips fall in the range of 0-1 km that can be easily served by walk facility. Good walk and cycling infrastructure and public transport can transform the city and reduce pollution. 

Learn from Delhi’s mistakes – more roads are not the answer: Even after putting 23 per cent of its geographical area under road network and building more than 70 flyovers, Delhi is the most polluted and gridlocked city today. Delhi is now forced to take pollution action measures like odd and even formula for personal vehicles so that at a time at least 50 per cent of the vehicles can be taken off the road. More steps are on cards – parking policy as a car restraint measures, fiscal disincentives, scaled-up public transport system, walking and cycling infrastructure, among others. These are the signs on the wall for other cities to know and understand.

Kolkata at risk of losing the benefits of first phase of action: The first phase of action in Kolkata has shown results. Kolkata has improved emissions standards, banned two-stroke autorickshaws; made pre-mixed 2-T oil mandatory; banned supply of loose 2T oil; upgraded PUC emission testing centers; introduced unleaded petrol; reduced benzene content in petrol; ensured only LPG-driven three wheelers are registered; about 21,000 autos, 3,000 buses and minibuses, and 7,000 taxis have been replaced in the city. There is stricter location policy for industrial units; there is regulatory compliance for grossly polluting industries; stricter emission standards for boilers, ceramic kilns, foundries and rolling mill; coal use restricted in industries; about 67 percent of the coal-fired boilers and about 73 per cent of coal-fired ceramic kilns have already been converted to oil-fired ones. The WBPCB is encouraging the industries to go ‘beyond compliance’. Thermal power plants are also regularly monitored to control the emissions, etc.

This first generation action has helped Kolkata – as the World Bank study shows -- to save more than 3,000 premature deaths a year due to air pollution-related diseases. This gives immense confidence for future action -- if we act we will see results.

Next generation action must gather momentum
Need stringent technology roadmap: It is extremely worrying that even after the implementation of the Auto Fuel Policy in 2010 which introduced Bharat Stage III in the country and Bharat Stage IV in few cities, the Government of India has not set the next target for moving quickly to Euro VI emissions standards. New automobile production and investments in the country are not even linked to any further commitment to improving vehicle technology and fuel quality. This will significantly delay adoption of clean diesel technology in the country and add to the toxic risk. Cities need early timeline for introduction of Euro VI emissions standards. It is important to note that only at Euro VI level diesel and petrol emissions begin to close gaps. CSE has demanded introduction of Bharat Stage IV nationwide immediately so that all trucks can move to Bharat Stage IV and leapfrog quickly to Euro VI emission standards. CSE has also demanded promotion of zero emissions technology like electric vehicles for niche application in inter-mediate public transport like autos and taxis.

Reinvent public transport: Public transport is Kolkata’s strength but ignored: Disproportionate focus on car-centric roads and flyovers is leading to neglect of buses, trams, walking and bicycles -- the unique strength of the city. This puts the city at risk of undermining its own strength. The City Mobility Plan for Kolkata has set the goal of achieving a modal share of 90 per cent by 2025. It is projected that even in 2025, among all prominent public transport modes like metro, bus and ferry, -- buses will meet more than half of all demands. Public transport strategy must aim for better frequency and speed and comfort. Kolkata will have to reorganize its road space more equitably amongst all users and accord priority to public transport, walkers and users of non-motorised transport. 

Tram has already given Kolkata a sustainable road design that accords priority to public transport. Do not destroy this: It is regrettable that Kolkata is letting its tramway die. This system has already given a heads up to Kolkata in road design that gives the right of way to public transport to keep it out of congestion and attain speed. This is exactly the principle that other countries are trying to achieve through the bus rapid transit system and tram systems. But the sharp and progressive decline in Tramways due to lack of investments and modernisation, and unreliable service is taking away from sustainable designs of road space. Tram will have to be the part of vision and solution in Kolkata.  

Integrate all modes of public transport: Kolkata has an enormous advantage in its elaborate public transport infrastructure including, trams, suburban rail, bus system and also metro. An immediate multi-modal integration of all these systems can be the permanent solution to it congestion and pollution. 

Build pedestrian infrastructure: Design pedestrian guidelines for approval of road projects and enhancement of the existing ones. This change has started. Develop and implement pedestrian guidelines and carry out walkability and safety audits. 

Make cars pay the full cost of using road space and causing environmental damages: Globally, cities are desperate to free up road space from cars. They are making car parking prohibitive; adding high premium to car ownership; exacting dues for entering prime busy areas; only allowing a fraction of them on roads at a time; or just not allowing them in the city centre. They are also giving people more transport options other than cars. But Indian cities charge a pittance for road usage and for parking. CSE’s rapid assessment for instance shows that a car pays road tax in its lifetime what a bus pays every year. Also big cars are taxed lower than small cars. Cities must reverse this.  

Enforce parking controls, rationalize taxes on cars and make way for congestion charging. Cars cannot continue to enjoy direct and hidden subsidy and privileges on roads and pay the full cost of operations and for harming the environment and public health. Experience from around the world shows that parking area management and controls, parking pricing, high penalty for illegal parking, residential parking permits along with taxes top the list as the first generation car restraint measures worldwide. Cars are the biggest encroachers in Kolkata: 30-40 per cent of roads in Kolkata are taken up by parking; 50-70 per cent of footpaths reduced due to on-street parking. At the same time cars pay a pittance for parking. This acts like a hidden subsidy. Indian cities including Kolkata and Delhi have begun to prepare parking policy but this must include parking controls and pricing to dampen car usage. 

State government needs to frame a state level urban transport policy with adequate legal back up to guide action on sustainable transport. Kolkata still has the chance to plan its future growth differently and avoid the path of pollution, congestion and energy guzzling. Cities need to make maximum investment in redesigning their existing road space and travel pattern to provide the majority of the people affordable and efficient mode of public transport that can be an alternative to personal vehicles. 

Cities now need time bound action plan to improve public transport and phasing in of restraint measures to give the right signals. 

For further information, please contact Piyanka Chandola, 91 – 9810414938, priyanka@cseindia.org 

or Vrinda Nagar, CSE Media Resource Centre, at 9654106253/ vrinda.nagar@cseindia.org.



Programme Schedule
Clearing the air in our cities: Agenda for action

By: Anumita Roychowdhury
Vivek Chattopadhyay, Priyanka Chandola, Inderjit Ahuja, Usman Nasim, Neha Saxena and Polash Mukherjee

Health impact of air pollution

By: Dr. Manas Ranjan Ray

Air Quality Issues of Kolkata

By: Ujjal Kumar Mukhopadhyay