As India’s millennium city, Gurugram has scripted an inspiring success story of economic development. But alarming pollution levels are changing this dream to a living nightmare.
- Gurugram has been declared the most polluted city in the world in a recent study.
- The study results are based on levels of particulate matter (PM2.5), which can fester deep in the lungs and bloodstream.
- Seven Indian cities feature among the top 10 most polluted cities in the world.
- India’s healthcare costs and productivity losses due to pollution are estimated at around 8.5% of GDP.
In a span of just around two decades, Gurugram (earlier Gurgaon) has emerged from a small non-descript town to the high tech, aspirational and ‘futuristic’ millennium city we know today.
Gurugram is one of the most visible showcases of India’s economic development since the turn of this century and among the top 10 richest cities of the country. Its total wealth has grown by 160% during 2007-17.
But Gurugram has one additional claim to fame that it would ideally like to keep under wraps
– its poisonous air. Gurugram has been adjudged the most polluted city in the world according to a study by IQAir AirVisual and Greenpeace. The ranking is according to particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution scores, where Gurugram leads with 135.8. It is closely followed by Ghaziabad (135.2).
Source: GreenPeace and AirVisual
A ‘Made in India’ problem?
One would suspect this to be true given the
dominance of India in the rankings. Seven Indian cities feature in the top 10 most polluted cities of the world in a list that includes two Pakistani cities (Faislabad and Lahore) and one city from China (Hotan). New Delhi ranks 11th, but gets the dubious distinction of being the world’s most polluted capital. In the top 30 cities, 22 are located in India, five in China, two in Pakistan and one in Bangladesh.
PM2.5 is a pollutant that penetrates and can fester deep in the lungs and bloodstreams of human beings. Yeb Sano, executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, commented in a statement,
“This has enormous impacts, on our health and on our wallets. In addition to human lives lost, there’s an estimated cost of US$ 225 billion in lost labour, and trillions in medical costs.”
The World Bank has estimated that India’s healthcare costs and productivity losses due to pollution account for around 8.5% of GDP.
One of the major issues plaguing the most polluted Indian cities is their location in the vicinity of the Indo-Gangetic plains. Dipankar Saha, former head of Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) air quality lab elaborates:
“The air quality in this region is
problematic due to accumulation of dust from neighbouring areas and poor ventilation indexthat does not allow proper dispersion of pollution.”
Gurugram’s pollution is also attributed to a high quantity of ground-level emissions, as it receives a lot of transported dust from north-west and west India.
But there are self-inflicted wounds too!
The Aravallis act as a buffer for the entire NCR region. The forest cover keeps the air pure amidst the high levels of vehicular and industrial pollution. The Aravallis are also critical to ensure recharging of ground water, as the region faces a severe scarcity in the summer months.
But this buffer may not stay for long. The Haryana government has adopted the Punjab Land Preservation (Haryana Amendment) Bill 2019, which will
take the protection off around 29,000 hectares of forest cover in the Aravalis and Shivaliks. This will open this region to activities like mining and construction. The decision led to loud protests from across the board. Even the Supreme Court has strongly warned the state government against taking such a decision, which will only favour real estate and mining companies.
Air quality expert Namita Gupta feels that construction activities need to be curtailed or better managed in Gurugram to tackle the pollution:
“Everywhere you go, the
roads are dug up. Delhi has pockets of construction going on, but Gurugram has construction going on everywhere. It is a developing city, but one cannot override environmental concerns in favour of development.”
Vehicular emissions and garbage burning are also major problems as laws have not been strictly enforced like Delhi. There is no mandatory requirement of CNG vehicles for public transport, and no stringent action is being taken against polluting vehicles. There is an urgent need to phase out diesel-run autos and generators as well.
Ruchika Sethi, who runs the “Why Waste Your Waste” campaign blames the problems on rapid and poorly executed urbanisation:
“The city lacks holistic planning and enforcement capacities for honouring even the basic environmental laws and meeting the civic municipal guidelines. A non-inclusive growth has further created a plethora of challenges. The local triggers of air pollution can be seen round the year such as rampant burning of waste, reckless dumping of debris, non-adherence to construction norms and open sale of construction material.”
Although Gurugram’s economic development is no less than a miracle, poor air quality
greatly belies its stature as a futuristic city. The city must embark on a holistic course correction before it is too late.
- Gurugram is disadvantaged like most Indian cities due to its location in the Indo-Gangetic plains.
- Rapid and poorly planned urbanisation has further
enhanced the severityof the problem.
- The city needs to urgently clamp down on diesel vehicles and enforce usage of eco-friendly public transportation.
- The state government must give up its plans to allow mining and construction work in the Aravallis, as this will further
endanger the livesof Gurugram’s residents.