Last year in December the Director of Sher e Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences-SKIMS Dr Parvez Koul said that 10,000 deaths were attributed to air pollution in J&K every year. He said that Srinagar City has the highest incidence of lung cancer in India and a large number of people were suffering from chronic lung diseases in J&K. Dr Koul called for an urgent need to act and control air pollution by countering measures and initiatives like afforestation around Srinagar city especially growing more trees on the hills surrounding Srinagar city like Hari Parbat and Zabarwan mountains which can reduce the air pollution in Srinagar city especially. SKIMS Director said this during a function held in Srinagar in December last year. The function was held to launch the J & K chapter of Doctors for Clean Air and Climate Action at SKIMS.
The Department of Pulmonary Medicine SKIMS in association with Lung Care Foundation and Doctors for Clean Air and Climate Action have already decided to work towards reducing air pollution in Jammu and Kashmir and they have devised several progarmmes for the same. Prof. (Dr.) Arvind Kumar, Founder Trustee Lung Care Foundation and Chairman - Institute of Chest Surgery, Medanta, Gurugram gave a detailed presentation on “Understanding air pollution and its health ill effects”.
He said air pollution has become a national health issue that has hazardous effects on the health of people damaging lungs and other vital organs including brain, heart etc.
During his presentation in the technical session the SKIMS Director said that around ten thousand deaths were attributed to particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5) exposure and there is a need to control it by reducing the air pollution. He said the increasing number of vehicles, construction sites, brick kilns, cement factories which emit pollutants and significantly pollute our air and affect health makes air pollution a health issue. Professor Farooq Lone from Environmental Studies SKAUST Srinagar said biomass burning in Kashmir was a major source of air pollution besides other sources like unregulated establishment of cement factories, brick kilns and overload of vehicular traffic within cities.
PCC’s criminal silence ?
At a time when our mother earth is facing serious climatic challenges, it demands immediate action as well. Are we serious about air pollution in Jammu & Kashmir? Is the J & K Pollution Control Committee cracking its whip on illegal / pollution causing brick kilns , cement industries and other factories in J&K which emit a lot of toxic gases and pollute our environment? Irony is that instead of acting against them the PCC is giving consent to set up fresh brick kilns on agricultural land in Budgam district. Not only this violates environmental laws but it will also impact the inflight visibility during terminal state. In-fact Air Force station Srinagar has already written a detailed letter on the issue to Divisional Commissioner Kashmir and Deputy Commissioner Budgam, but in spite of this air security issue the PCC gave its consent to set up fresh brick kilns. Pertinently the PCCs district office had earlier said that no brick kiln should be allowed as it would impact the agricultural land & environment but that written communication was bypassed by the Member Secretary of JK Pollution Control Committee.
JK Pollution Control Committee got huge funds under the National Clean Air programme, but we are not getting the desired results on the ground ? A reliable source in the pollution control committee told me that the Principal Scientist posted in JKPCC is only looking after biomedical waste for more than two decades and is based in Jammu while as this post has state level responsibility. Two other scientists posted in Srinagar are given odd jobs while water and air laboratories are run by Scientific Assistants and not the scientists. Water pollution is also a challenge in Jhelum, Doodh Ganga and many other streams. Unfortunately the same water is supplied to people by PHE Jal Skato department but PCC isn’t even visiting the sites to at least highlight the issue.
As air pollution is increasing day by day the J&K Govt and its institutions have to be more serious about it. There has to be a complete moratorium on setting up new cement plants or brick kilns in J&K. The owners of the pollution causing vehicles should be penalized heavily and mere checking pollution papers isn’t enough at all.
Black Carbon in Air
A study conducted by Earth Sciences Department of Kashmir University around 2014-15 revealed that Kashmir has three times more black carbon in the atmosphere than neighbouring states. The presence of high concentrations of black carbon is considered to be the major reason for the melting and shrinking of glaciers in the region. As per the Earth Sciences department ‘s report more than 20 % glaciers have vanished in Jammu & Kashmir during 60-65 years. According to a report published in 2015 in several local newspapers of Srinagar quoting Prof Shakeel Romshoo the then head of the Earth Sciences Department Kashmir University who is presently the Vice Chancellor of Islamic University of Sciences and Technology -IUST said that glaciers in the Kashmir were melting at a faster pace than the other glaciers in the rest of the Indian Himalayas.
“ We are studying this but so far we have found that black carbon levels are three times more than the atmosphere in other neighbouring states” said Dr Romshoo
The black carbon is made up of ultra-fine particles produced by the inefficient combustion of all kinds of fossil fuels. Even the wood , kerosene, diesel and emissions from brick kilns produce black carbon. The black carbon produces a dark soot, which efficiently absorbs light and converts it into heat. This property of black carbon to absorb heat makes it the second biggest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide. The black carbon has not only been found in air but it settles down on glaciers as well and helps their fast meltdown.
The Earth Sciences Department of the University of Kashmir has studied 30 glaciers in Jammu and Kashmir of 100 plus glaciers. The study conducted around 8 years back revealed that two or three glaciers have completely vanished and all others have shrunk considerably. In-fact during my recent trip to Pir Panjaal mountains in the upper part of Doodh Ganga valley bordering between Budgam and Poonch this author saw huge layers of black carbon having polluted the snow layers and glaciers.
At a time when 10,000 people die every year in J&K due to air pollution, and black carbon concentration has increased manifold impacting our glaciers, the institutions like Central Pollution Control Board, Pollution Control Committees have to be very cautious. If JKPCC has allowed to set up new brick kilns in Kashmir valley, it has to be viewed very seriously by the Government, especially LG Manoj Sinha ji. The Govt also needs to revamp the J&K Pollution Control Committee and post qualified environmental engineers and scientists in this organisation.