Kochi’s air quality in 2021 has shown a decline from 2020, according to a recent air quality index (AQI) categorisation done by a New Delhi-based environmental NGO. The study says that the number of days when the AQI was worse than satisfactory was eight in 2021, compared to four in 2020, and significantly, when it comes to “good” AQI days, it is again advantage-2020 with 43 days more than this past year.
And it looks like, for the large part, traffic is to blame, with the busy Vytilla area having the worst air quality at 56 µg/m3 (microgram per cubic metre of air) on average in December. For perspective, in Delhi, the average is 188 µg/m3, and the highest has been 364 ug/m3; but Kochi is hardly ideal, when we consider that what is acceptable is considered to be 12 µg/m3.
MA Baiju, chief environmental engineer at the Ernakulam office of the State Pollution Control Board, says that there is no cause for alarm, but also points out that with a shortage of staff, it is difficult to monitor if the board’s prescriptions to combat pollution are adopted in the city or remain on paper. “Vehicular pollution is a big factor, of course, and vehicle pollution testing centres, which come under the RTO, are unlikely to carry out the procedures in a proper scientific manner. If that were done, it could bring the issue under some control. There was a discussion to bring the testing under the administration of the PCB, but being short-staffed, we did not take it up,” he says.

Joel Thomas, a Kochi resident, has been going running for the past several years. He points out that the pollution becomes very obvious depending on the time and the area in the city. “If you run in the evening, you can tell that the air is more loaded with dust and pollution, compared to early in the mornings. Also, the area around the Nehru stadium has become a thoroughfare and the pollution levels have really gone up,” he says.

The city corporation for its part, under its Centre for Heritage Environment and Development, is undertaking city-wide real-time AQ monitoring. “We can then get an idea of the sources of pollution and seasonal variations, which will enable us to understand environmental quality and do what is necessary,” says Dr Rajeesh Menon, assistant professor of the water institute at SCMS School of Engineering & Technology, which is providing the technical support to the corporation project to install pollution monitoring devices around the city.

D Dhanuraj of Kochi-based think tank Centre for Public Policy Research has been a passionate advocate of giving a thrust to public transport, particularly buses, and he feels these AQI figures are further endorsement for the cause. “Once people use their own cars, it is difficult to get them to shift to public transport, but simultaneously, we are not providing suitable options. We used to have 1,400 buses in the city a decade back, while today we barely have 200, and cars and bikes have increased, increasing traffic and pollution levesl. But who is bothered? Not the system, the administration or politicians. Studies have shown that there was 74 per cent patronage of public transport, but in 2019, it came down to 40 per cent. In the early 2000s, we had about 32,000 buses on Kerala roads, today it is 12,000 meaning 20,000 have disappeared, because the government is not renewing licenses easily enough for private operators. But no one is discussing it. So, it won’t be surprising if our AQI results will get very high; it’s only that we don’t have the winters like in Delhi, when pollution is at its highest,” he says.

CPPR Chairman Dr D Dhanuraj comments in a news article published in The Time of India on January 29, 2022. Click here to read

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