Air Pollution: Second Largest Cause Of Premature Deaths In Bihar


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Located in south Bihar, Gaya, 7 km from the birthplace of Lord Buddha, is a popular international tourist hub and a hive of commercial activity. G.T. Road and other highways pass through the district bringing heavy vehicular traffic from the west while the international airport services travellers arriving in the state for religious tourism population of over 5 lakh Gaya is the 2nd largest city in Bihar and boasts of several industries such as stone cutting for construction, clay statue- making, incense stick cottage industry, besides powerloom/handloom firms, Engineering works and chemicals-based MSMEs are the main source of livelihood for locals besides tourism, agriculture and agro processing units. While the people of Gaya have been cognizant about the various pollution issues, environmental degradation is yet to become a political issue or appear on the election agenda mainly because other issues take primacy.

In a bid to improve the quality of life, local stakeholders have been pushing for Gaya to be included in various prestigious national schemes such as Smart Cities, NCAP, AMRUT, and HRIDAY, of which they have managed with the exception of the Smart City project, due to local dynamics. Featuring in the non-attainment cities list of the NCAP, Gaya (including Bodhgaya) has only 1 air quality monitoring station. A Central Pollution Control Board  report of October 2018 indicates PM2.5 level has increased by 3 times the standard rate.

PM2.5 and PM10, which come from multiple sources, have been identified as the main air pollutant in Gaya. NO2 has also been observed at alarming levels which is linked to vehicular emissions from old vehicles and traffic congestion. Gaya, as an NCAP city, has 1 (one) continuous monitoring station (CAMS) reporting data for all types of pollutants  and 1 manual station reporting data on PM2.5, PM10, SO2and NO2(SOx & NOx). The Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB) has identified the need for at least 12 CAMS for efficient and comprehensive reporting.

Sources of air pollution in Gaya include Vehicular traffic,  construction, stone quarrying and road dust, coal use by dhabas, brick kilns and diesel generator sets, wood burning for fuel and domestic needs, garbage burning and sand mining and dry river dust. A study titled ‘Global Burden of Disease Study 2017’ by the British medical journal Lancet reveals over 33 percent of deaths in Bihar in 2016 (national figure nearly 27 percent) occurred because of pollution-related diseases. Air pollution is now the second largest cause of premature deaths in Bihar after cardiovascular diseases. In the 1990s, air pollution was the third largest cause of such deaths in India. In the long period in which authorities have been trying to figure out how to solve the issue of pollution, Dr Faizur Ahmed of the Magadh Medical Hospital has seen the people of Gaya suffer from successive bouts of whooping cough, sneezing, itching, eye problems, along with several types of allergies. There has also been a rise in the number of cases of Tonsillitis, allergic pharyngitis and  Bronchitis,

According to Dr Subhash C Jha of the PMCH’s TB and Chest department, “patients suffering from COPD and respiratory infections have a high chance of turning into ICU cases. We often advise COPD patients to move to locations that have lower levels of air pollutants. There had been an increase in the incidence of tonsillitis, allergic pharyngitis and bronchitis. If the pollutants enter the lungs, there is an increase in the incidence of bronchiolitis, pneumonia and lung cancer.”

Actions & Policies by the State Government

Year – 2018

Sushil Kumar Modi, Deputy CM of Bihar, who also holds the forest and environment portfolio, said brick kilns which do not have ‘zig-zag technology’ will be banned from September 1, 2018. The technology reduces coal consumption by 2 tonne per one lakh bricks made. BSPCB estimates 80 per cent brick kilns have adopted this technology, which has lower levels of emissions. “Zigzag design for brick kilns has been used since the 1970s and is a well-tested technology. In West Bengal, for instance, 2,500-3,000 brick kiln owners have been using it for years without waiting for any government order,” says Sameer Maithel, director of Green-tech Knowledge Solutions, a clean energy research and advisory firm based in Delhi. “Bihar too has been trying to make its kilns shift to zigzag technology since 2016. As per an order passed by the state government on August 30, 2018, all kilns must shift to the cleaner technology by August 31, 2019. Of about 6,500 brick kilns in the state, 450-500 have converted to zigzag technology so far. But despite the cost and labour issues, most kiln owners are keen to shift to zigzag. According to our survey conducted around Patna, about 65% of those who made the transition found that the zigzag technology was more fuel efficient and produced better bricks,” Maithel added. The Deputy CM also sought changes in rules and regulations concerned to allow the setting up of captive biomedical waste plants by big hospitals and medical colleges, and providing states the power to ban the use of motor vehicles older than 15 years. The Bihar government announced that it is coming up with an ”Electric Vehicles policy“ to promote the manufacture and use of such automobiles in the state.

But despite the cost and labour issues, most kiln owners are keen to shift to zigzag. According to our survey conducted around Patna, about 65% of those who made the transition found that the zigzag technology was more fuel efficient and produced better bricks,” Maithel added. The Deputy CM also sought changes in rules and regulations concerned to allow the setting up of captive biomedical waste plants by big hospitals and medical colleges, and providing states the power to ban the use of motor vehicles older than 15 years. The Bihar government announced that it is coming up with an ”Electric Vehicles policy“ to promote the manufacture and use of such automobiles in the state.

Year – 2017

The Bihar government announced a new policy for 3400MW power from renewable/non-fossil fuel sources by 2022.

Year – 2015

The Bihar government released an action plan for climate change that involves a change in transport and energy systems to reduce emissions that will benefit the air quality in the state.



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