Rapid Increase in Number of Private Vehicles in New Delhi Threatens to Erase Air Quality Gains Since 2000
|PM and NOx levels in Delhi are rising. Click to enlarge.|
Delhi is in danger of losing the gains of its CNG program as pollution levels are once again creeping up to pre-2000 level. The latest analysis of recent air quality data in Delhi carried out by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) finds that pollution levels are on the upswing again after a few years of control.
Last winter, pollution levels in the city increased for the first time since the initiation of the CNG program, and this year pollution levels are already almost as high as what was in the city in pre-CNG days.
We will have to take tough measures to control growing air pollution and fast. Otherwise, Delhi will find itself in the choked and toxic haze of the pre-CNG days, when diesel-driven buses and autos had made it one of the most polluted cities on earth.—Sunita Narain, director, CSE
In 2002, when Delhi initiated the CNG program, the annual average levels of respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM, or PM10) in residential areas stood at 143 microgram per cubic meter. That dropped to 115 microgram per cubic meter by 2005. Since 2006, the annual average levels have jumped back to 136 microgram per cubic meter. The monthly average levels of RSPM in the winter of 2006-07 was as high as 350 microgram per cubic meter. The levels may even be higher this winter.
This year, the daily levels of even finer particulates smaller than 2.5-micron size (PM2.5), have already reached 240 microgram per cubic meter in Delhi in end-October. Studies in the US show that an increase of only 10 microgram per cubic meter of PM2.5 is associated with significant increases in health risks. High exposure to PM2.5 is known to lead to increased hospitalization for asthma, lung diseases, chronic bronchitis and heart damage. Long-term exposure can cause lung cancer.
Levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx) have been increasing in the city to dangerous levels.
CSE attributes the reversal to the rapid growth of private vehicles and in particular, diesel vehicles, in the city. Delhi currently has more than four million registered vehicles, and is adding 963 new personal vehicles each day on its roads—almost double what was added in the city in pre-CNG days.
With rapid fleet growth, congestion is also growing. Little has been done to plan for public transport in the city and connectivity between the growing cities of the National Capital Region, according to CSE. National Highway 8—the Delhi-Gurgaon road—which was designed for a traffic volume of 160,000 vehicles by 2015, already carries 130,000 cars.
The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) in its recent report has noted that bus numbers in the city do not even add up to the target of 10,000 set by the Supreme Court way back in July 1998. Clearly, a massive initiative to increase public transport is needed along with steps to restrain the growth of private vehicles, according to CSE.
According to the Society for Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), market share of diesel cars has already increased to more than 30% in the last 18 months. In 1999, diesel cars accounted for 2% of new car sales. The share of diesel cars is expected to be 50% of total car sales by 2010. Delhi moved to Bharat Stage III emission standards—essentially Euro 3 standards—in 2005.
Even at a very conservative estimate, the total number of diesel cars presently in Delhi is equivalent to adding particulate emissions from nearly 30,000 diesel buses.—Anumita Roychoudhury, head of CSE’s air pollution campaign