Orientation conclave in Kolkata deliberates on creating next generation strategies for clean air in the city

  • Diverse group of implementing agenciesfrom Kolkata and Howrah along with national and international experts gathered in the state capital to deliberate on new generation strategies needed for deep cuts in toxic emissions 
  • The spotlight was on emissions from vehicles, transportation and waste generation that are among the complex set of air pollution challenges in the region 
  • This Orientation Conclave on Air Quality Management: Building Strategies for Clean Air, is part of the collaborative initiative of Department of Environment, Government of West Bengal, and Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi 

Kolkata, February 23, 2019: As the air pollution action planning process is underway to respond to the air pollution and health challenges in Kolkata and the surrounding region,the concerned implementing agencies from Kolkata and Howrah convened in the city on February 22 to engage with national and international experts to chart the pathways for next generation action in critical sectors of vehicular emissions, transportation and waste generation. 

Billed as an Orientation Conclave on Air Quality Management: Building Strategies for Clean Air, themeeting was a part of the collaborative initiative of the Department of Environment, Government of West Bengal, and Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi, to build opportunity for cross-learning based on global and national best practices. 

To set the agenda for action, the top heads of the concerned departments convened to address this gathering. The discussion was led by Mr Indevar Pandey, Additional Chief Secretary, Environmentand Forests; Dr Subrata Gupta, Principal Secretary,Urban Development and Municipal Affairs; Mr N S Nigam, Secretary,Transport; Mr Niraj Singhal, Member Secretary, West Bengal State Pollution Control Board; and Ms Anumita Roychowdhury, Executive Director-Research and Advocacy, CSE. 

This forum also brought together experts from the International Council on Clean Transportation, USA; MTR Corporation, the biggest transit operation in Hong Kong; and the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI), among others.The meeting was also well attended by officials from the Departments of Environment, Transport, State Pollution Control Board, Municipal Corporation and Traffic Police. 

The deliberations highlighted that urban air quality management requires multi-sectoral and coordinated action to address rising air pollution from multiple sources in the rapidly growing cities. Motorisation, booming construction activities, waste generation, dispersed use of solid fuels, and industrial activities are cumulatively and continuously polluting the air. To this is added episodic pollution from biomass and crop residue burning. 

While several measures have been taken in all these sectors, there is a need fornext generation sectoral strategies. Kolkata and Howrah will have to nearly halve their particulate pollution to meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The time-bound, integrated and multi-sectoral action requires adoption of several new generation compliance methods and systems to control real world emissions, and comprehensive design details of mitigation strategies. 

The vehicles and waste sectors (including solid waste and construction and demolition waste and dust from construction)were the key focus of the discussions. Experts highlighted the pathways to advancement in strategies that are needed for improving on-road emissions monitoring and compliance system as the city is making the transition from Bharat Stage IV emissions standards to BSVI standards next year. 

Kolkata has already taken the leadto introduce remote sensing measurements for on-road surveillance. This drew considerable attention for further leverage as the national framework for such application is now being developed. The international experience in the conclave made it clear that the big thrust will have to be on controlling realworld emissions from vehicles while scaling up the infrastructure for phasing out of older vehicles and scrappage to maximize air quality benefits. 

The fact that drew national and international attention is that Kolkata has the unique opportunity to build upon its advantage of having a diverse set of public transport systemswhere almost 90 percent of the travel trips areby public transport. Experience from Hong Kong and other good practices were shared to identify the pathways for efficient and more upgraded integration. As Kolkata embarks on expanding and modernizing its public transport systems, additional strategies will be needed to keepservices affordable and the systems financially viable. Connecting new urban development with a well integrated public transport system will be crucial to ensure the sprawling metropolitan areas donot fall into the trap of motorization and losetheir inherent advantages. 

Moreover, Kolkata, with its launch of 20 electric buses can show the early way to the rest of the country on how to transition to electric mobility. There was considerable discussion on global case studieson electric vehicle programme to build the appropriate systems for electric buses and vehicles to chart the roadmap for implementation. 

In the waste sector, good practices in collection and recycling of waste were demonstrated to identify the clear strategies to minimize air pollution from waste generation, handling, dumping and waste burning. The critical focus was on dust control practices in construction sites and setting up of facilities to recycle construction and demolition waste. Large construction agencies like CPWD that were present in the conclave demonstrated how they are using blocks and other materials made out of construction and demolition waste in the buildings they are constructing. Such systems are needed to ensure that these wastes are not dumped but are brought back to the construction as resource. 

This dialogue will be taken forward to enable knowledge sharing to build capacity, design advanced strategies and strengthen implementation for cleaner air.

To connect to a CSE resource, please contact Souparno Banerjee, The CSE Media Resource Centre, souparno@cseindia.org / 9910864339.