Chandigarh:  Residents of Punjab, along with a panel of experts, came together on Wednesday for a virtual discussion on air quality management as part of the Clean Air Punjab network in collaboration with EcoSikh.

The session ensued a detailed discussion about the rising air pollution as well as the steps that need to be taken up by authorities as well as the community to manage the deteriorating air quality.

A series of campaigns have been initiated by the Clean Air Punjab, which is a citizen initiative, along with EcoSikh, to promote awareness among people as well as sensitisation of degradation of the environment and the rising air pollution levels in Punjab.

The session was attended by over 100 participants from Punjab and other neighbouring states.

The panellists for the workshop included Prabhjyot Kaur Sidhu, Principal Scientist and Head, Department of Climate Change and Agricultural Meteorology, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana; Kahan Singh Pannu, a former IAS officer; Raj Ratra, Senior Environment Engineer, Punjab Pollution Control Board; Sarath Guttikunda, founder-cum-director Urban Emissions, Tanushree Ganguly, Programme Lead, Risks and Adaptation-Air Quality, Council on Energy Environment & Water (CEEW), and Gunjan Jain, a communication strategist with Climate Trends.

Ganguly said Punjab is home to nine non-attainment cities of which only six cities — Mandi Gobindgarh, Patiala, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Amritsar and Khanna — possess real-time monitoring infrastructure.

“Data reported by these stations suggest that PM10 concentrations in all six cities were greater than the permissible limit on more than 50 per cent of days in the first half of 2021. PM10, the coarser fraction of particulate matter, comes from sources like road dust, dust from construction sites, landfills, windblown dust, etc, ” she said, adding interestingly, existing source apportionment studies for cities in Punjab point to a significant contribution from sources outside city limits.

“Therefore, to address pollution in the state, it would be imperative to ramp up air quality monitoring and generate more evidence on local and regional sources of pollution impacting the state, ” Ganguly said.

Experts emphasised that it was becoming a norm for neighbouring states to simply blame Punjab during the stubble burning season, and the fact that people from Punjab are themselves a victim of air pollution is lost in the stubble burning discussion.

“Stubble burning was not the only polluting source across the Indo-Gangetic plains every winter, but it has captured the imagination and attention of popular debate as to the culprit for Delhi’s grey winter skies, ” said Jain.

She added that although stubble burning is an episodic source that contributes approximately 2 to 25 per cent (depending on the year, season and meteorology) to Delhi’s pollution share, the media debate and political blame game fail to give similar attention to the year-long polluting sources like industry, vehicles, power plants, cooking fuels, diesel generators, waste burning, dust, etc., which are leading to high pollution levels even in the summer.

Prabhjyot Kaur said Punjab with nearly 83 per cent area under crops is predominantly a green state.

“Despite this fact, the AQI of Punjab in May 2021 ranged from 68-220, which indicates that the air quality ranged in the poor to very poor category. This continued even during the lockdown period despite reduced vehicular and industrial pollution, which highlights that we need to explore the possible reasons for the poor AQI in Punjab, ” she said.

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