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Choking on the truth: How the air that sustains our life is also slowly killing us
India Today, 16 March 2015
Plants wilting by the highway, the laboured rise and fall of an infant chest, the soupy smog that sits on many of our cities every winter, or the charred smell after Diwali-we sense air pollution in many ways. Harsh Dhillon, 42, who has gone running in central Delhi every morning for six years, reads the air quality by how his body reacts. "I spit black phlegm after every run now, I can physically feel how much worse it is getting." He is more worried about his seven-year-old son's asthma, which flares with the pollution in winter. "One lives in this city under sufferance," says Dhillon. Meanwhile, Kolkata reels under congestion and a growing crush of vehicles. "Kolkata has become an old-age home for vehicles. An order to phase out public vehicles older than 15 years was passed long ago, but execution is another matter," says anti-pollution activist Subhash Dutta. Chennai too has industrial hotspots such as Kathivakkam, Manali and Thiruvottiyur with off-the-charts pollution levels. Across India, construction dust, exhaust fumes from trucks and cars, coal plant and factory emissions, diesel generators, stubble burning in fields, garbage fires and inefficient chulhas, among others, have made air pollution nothing short of a public emergency. Last May, a World Health Organization (WHO) study of 1,600 cities revealed how air pollution had worsened significantly, even compared to a smaller study in 2011, and that Delhi officially has the world's dirtiest air, going by its PM2.5 count. In 1996, when india today featured air pollution on the cover, more than 40,000 Indians were estimated to die prematurely because of air pollution, according to the World Bank. In 2000, it was 100,000 and by 2010, it was 627,000, according to a Global Burden of Disease study, a collaboration between the WHO and over 300 institutions in 50 countries. New research, from the Conservation Action Trust and Urban Emissions, an independent research group, projects that air pollution-related mortalities due to coal burning will double or even triple by 2030. Pollution preys on the vulnerable. The most direct, lifelong impact is on children, and it can impair many aspects of their health, including cognition and memory. It disproportionately hurts the elderly, pregnant women, those with a history of respiratory trouble, and those who have no shield from working or living outdoors, such as traffic police, hawkers, construction workers and the homeless. Polluted air is a stew of toxic ingredients, including ozone, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and fine particulate matter (PM10 of ten microns and smaller, PM2.5 and so on). Ozone and particulate matter combine with fog to create the overwhelming layer of cruddy air every winter. Last winter, PM10 levels in Delhi touched 400 micrograms per cubic metre; the WHO recommended safe limit is 20 micrograms. The smaller the particle, the bigger the harm to your health. Delhi is now the city with the highest levels of the super-fine PM2.5, microscopic grains that settle deep into your lungs and seep into your bloodstream. Of the 20 cities most polluted in this aspect, a full 13 are in India, including Patna, Gwalior, Raipur and others. A mere increase of 10 micrograms per cubic metre can increase chances of lung cancer by 8 per cent, cardiopulmonary deaths by 6 per cent, and all deaths by 4 per cent, according to the definitive Arden Pope study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that was conducted over 16 years with 500,000 adults. If India met its own air standards, about half of its citizens who now live with unacceptable levels of particulate matter would gain another 3.2 years to their lives, said a recent study by economists from Chicago, Harvard and Yale universities. Doctors make a distinction between the fleeting harms-watering eyes, throat irritation at a traffic junction-and the lasting, mortal danger of long exposure. As Dr Randeep Guleria, head of pulmonary medicine at AIIMS puts it, air pollution accelerates serious illnesses. A Global Burden of Disease study, which analysed more than 200 causes of death between 1990 and 2010, found that outdoor particulate matter had caused 627,000 premature deaths in India annually. As this airborne detritus coats your air passages, and some of it enters your bloodstream, it affects many parts of your body. Ambient air pollution causes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lower respiratory infections, heart disease, cerebrovascular disease and cancers of the trachea and the lung. "There have been many studies showing the direct correlation between suspended particulate matter and respiratory disease. For instance, there is a very eloquent paper by a paediatric pulmonologist in Bangalore about the correspondence between the registration of vehicles in a city and the levels of hospital OPD attendance," says Dr Arup Kumar Basu, senior pulmonologist at Delhi's Sir Ganga Ram hospital. Not every global study on air pollution can be directly applied to India, given variations in the composition of pollution. In a breath of mixed air, there are many elements, variables and confounding factors-which is why it takes careful study to attribute disease to individual pollutants. Sometimes, agents act in combination; for instance, smoking and exposure to vehicular emissions together will create a far greater likelihood of lung cancer than smoking or exposure alone. But that said, Basu says that the statistical relationship between pollution and health is firmly established. "There is a lot of work that establishes what happens to the protective cells of the respiratory lining." In the respiratory epithelium, he explains, there are tiny, waving hair-like structures or cilia which redirect impurities away from the lungs. "Ciliary action is very important for clearing the respiratory tract. Pollution reduces cilia, sometimes deadens them. There is low mucus clearance, phlegm tends to accumulate," says Dr Basu. On average, a healthy adult inhales 15 cubic metres of air a day-that's a whole roomful of air-filtered through the nose and windpipe. Chronic exposure to air pollution either reduces the capacity of lungs to take in vital air or leads to infections of the lung tissue, leading to a loss of elasticity. There are changes in alveolar macrophages, the first line of cellular lung defence. Unlike the West, we don't have long-term studies on air pollution in India. "If there was access to tissue cultures from the '70s and now, one could see the vast footprint of what pollution has done," says Sarath Guttikunda, founder of the independent research group UrbanEmissions.info. "We need more epidemiological studies to establish the effects of individual pollutants in India," says Dr Guleria. But there is more than enough to establish the dangers of polluted air, he says, citing a 2012 study led by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and Kolkata's Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute, which found that every third child in Delhi has reduced lung function. The sputum of Delhi's children has four times as many iron-laden macrophages, suggesting pulmonary hemorrhage. Between 2000 and 2006, epidemiological studies were conducted on the health impact of urban air pollution among residents of Kolkata and Delhi, including schoolchildren, as well as an age-and-sex-matched control group from rural areas with lower particulate pollution. Ambient air data was taken from the CPCB and West Bengal Pollution Control Board. It found that upper (stuffy/runny nose, cough, red eyes, sinusitis) and lower (chronic cough, wheezing, chest discomfort) respiratory symptoms were present in 23 per cent and 17 per cent of Delhi children, compared to 14.6 per cent and 8 per cent in rural areas. After controlling for potential confounders such as parental smoking and socio-economic status, it also found higher incidence of asthma. Lung function deficits were also more prevalent and more severe among Delhi schoolchildren. Now, the crisis of ambient air pollution makes for frequent discussion in the media. Like London's Great Smog of 1952, or Los Angeles in 1943 when they mistook smog for chemical warfare, or Beijing's "airpocalypse" in 2013, sometimes it takes a dramatic event to spur policy and action-and since the WHO report on PM2.5 and the bitter smog of the 2012 winter, there has been greater public awareness of the problem. But the bigger danger to health in India, as identified by the Global Burden of Disease Survey, is indoor air pollution from poorly ventilated stoves, particularly in rural areas. "Even when more efficient stoves are distributed, their use must be monitored. Sometimes, there may be less smoke but more ultra-fine particles, which can be even more insidious than PM2.5," says Suresh Jain, professor of environmental science and engineering at Teri University, Delhi. Dispersion models have shown how particulate pollution can travel far from the sources they are originally emitted from, and affect those living far away. Air pollution is a common but differentiated problem in India. A six-city study conducted by the CPCB in 2010 revealed the various compositions of dirty air in these places-it can come from factories and kilns (even if pushed to the outskirts, the wind can blow polluted gases right back over the face of the city). It comes from the large conflagrations of crop stubble and small fires of garbage, from road dust, diesel generators, from constant construction work and from the phenomenal increase in vehicles. And this is the nub of the matter -while citizens who fear for their health can take protective measures, buy purifiers and masks, or even travel off-peak, making a difference to the air takes coordinated and high-level policy and execution. The Supreme Court's intervention in Delhi-moving polluted industries out of the city, switching public transport to CNG, etc-temporarily improved air quality, until the growing numbers of new vehicles undid those gains. "While air quality standards are centrally set, much of the burden of enforcing pollution norms rests with the state pollution boards," says environment lawyer at the Centre for Policy Research, Shibani Ghosh. The central pollution board, for instance, does not dictate fuel standards. Under the previous auto fuel policy, while 33 cities insist on Bharat 4 standards, much of the country still used Bharat 3, and trucks with high levels of diesel emissions still travel across the country, points out Jain. Adulterated fuel is another source of pollution. Benzene, a component of diesel exhausts, is a carcinogen for humans, and yet diesel has long been effectively encouraged by policy and pricing. Meanwhile, much of the West has already moved to cleaner, more efficient technologies such as Euro V and VI. There are other regulatory gaps -sulphates are not controlled in India at all, because Indian coal has low sulphur content. However, most of the coal now used in our power plants is imported, and these sulphates combine with water and trace elements to create PM2.5. The problem, says Ghosh, is that pollution crosscuts institutional structures-the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and that of surface transport are involved in fuel standards, the rural development ministry and MoEF may have to coordinate on improving rural stoves. Unlike the US Environmental Protection Agency, which provides federal coordination on industrial emissions, fuel standards, waste disposal, even safe detergents, the CPCB in India does not have the capacities to single-handedly implement comprehensive action for clean air. To tackle air pollution seriously, one needs a granular understanding of it. And in that respect, India is way behind its targets, says Guttikunda. "Delhi is overstudied because it has a relatively higher number of air quality monitors." Only six stations in the city are capable of real-time monitoring. Beijing, in comparison, operates 35 such monitoring stations, he says. A former Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board official says that Chennai has eight air quality monitoring stations but needs at least 75 stations since the city has expanded to include new suburban zones in 2011. Real-time, continuous monitoring of emissions is a minimal need. "We need to improve the accuracy and coverage of pollution monitoring. This data must be made available to the public, both as a health advisory and to create pressure on polluters," says Sunita Narain, director-general of the Centre for Science and Environment. In other cities, surge episodes are followed by pollution emergency action such as temporarily reducing cars, closing schools and industrial units, she says. Meanwhile, Delhi had five such surges in the second half of December alone, and the public is happily unaware of the danger it is in. But then again, "The CPCB's colour-coded air quality index is meaningless if it stays in the red/dangerous zone more days than not," says Anant Sudarshan, the Delhi-based executive director of the University of Chicago's Energy Policy Institute at Chicago (EPIC). We need better-placed monitoring infrastructure in urban areas, and satellite-based measuring techniques to estimate pollution levels across India, he says. Apart from incentivising public transport and managing demand through energy-efficient buildings, etc, the decision to improve air quality requires a shift in policy instincts, one that focuses on compliance. The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1981 is as stringent a law as any, says Ghosh. The problem is,in fact, that it may be too strict to be effective, having created a skewed liability system that criminalises rather than extracting financial penalties. It is an all-or-nothing system that does little to compensate for environmental damage, and makes no distinction between types of violation. "In our system, pollution control boards have to identify violations and file a case before the magistrate. They can also shut down power and water supply to plants, but they often do not, for worry of the cascading effect of such harsh decisions. The evidentiary burden is too high for these under-resourced bodies, and there is no evidence that this harsh power acts as a deterrent," she says. Changing one line in the air act to allow for civil remedies would make all the difference in regulating industry more sensibly. A recent pilot study in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu experimented with a market for emissions trading in particulates. But apart from the fact that such market-based mechanisms will have to be debated and accepted, the air act would have to be amended to make such schemes viable. The recent study by the economists from Chicago, Harvard and Yale universities recommended moving to civil penalties on the polluter-pays principle, so that industries and other sources have incentives to reduce emissions. They cite the coal cess, which started in 2010 with the modest rate of Rs.50 per tonne and is now at Rs.200 per tonne, as an example. India is only likely to step up power generation and manufacturing, and some levels of pollution are inevitable in a growing economy. Guttikunda estimates, in a recent study, that coal generation and consumption is likely to rise by 300 per cent by 2030, and air emissions will at least double, as will the associated total mortality. But then again, "expanding reliable power supply is necessary, and would limit the danger of diesel generators," Sudarshan points out. Similarly, it may be difficult to move people from the comfort and mobility of their cars, or implement congestion taxes and exorbitant parking fees without providing adequate public transport options, he says. But curtailing industrial emissions is a relatively easy action, and should not be put off any longer. As many environmentalists and economists see it, we need a realistic, market-oriented approach to air pollution, that will sustain growth without shortening lives.
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Sustainable Habitat Solutions
The Hindu , 13 March 2015
Leading professionals from the government, academia, civil society organisations, builders, architects and engineers participated in the sixth GRIHA Summit held at New Delhi recenty. Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA) is the national rating system for green buildings in India and is the first indigenous attempt to address sustainability issues in the Indian construction sector. The summit provided a platform to showcase the rating’s potential to achieve better performing buildings. More than 700 representatives from the construction industry participated in diverse discussions on breakthroughs in the urban and rural habitats. The summit was organised by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and supported by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE), and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Delivering the inaugural address, Rajeev Gowda, Rajya Sabha MP, said, “While negotiating with other countries on environment and climate change issues we emphasise that India is a low-carbon impact society. But the situation has been changing adversely, and we can pre-empt this kind of future. We can distil the knowledge of our ancestors, build a bridge between ancient wisdom and our cutting-edge technology.” Amit Kumar, Adjunct Professor, TERI University, and Vice-President, GRIHA Council, said “There are over 21 million square metres that have been registered for GRIHA certification.” So far 575 projects have been registered, and it is expected that more than 150 projects will be further added this year. Leena Srivastava, Acting Director-General, TERI, said “While we want people to occupy green buildings, there are more energy companies stepping in with services required to facilitate this. It is important that the end-users are empowered to make informed decisions and understand that the economics work in their favour.”
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Why should students go for a graded university ?
Hindustan Times (HT Education), 4 March 2015
The Capital may be a popular study destination among students from across the country, but the number of graded colleges and universities isn’t too high. Students should, therefore, check whether the institution they are applying to is accredited by NAAC. Currently, just seven universities and 15 colleges are NAAC accredited in Delhi. These are Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University (GGSIPU), Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD), Jamia Hamdard and Jawaharlal Nehru University. Jamia Millia Islamia and Delhi University have already applied for NAAC accreditation and are awaiting a review. “AUD applied for NAAC accreditation the moment it was eligible for it (ie after it completed five years). It is the only university among the other 20-odd new ones that were launched around 2007-08, to apply for accreditation,” says Praveen Singh, convener, NAAC Steering Committee, Ambedkar University Delhi. AUD applied for accreditation in October 2013 and submitted the Self Study Report (SSR) in March 2014. The SSR was prepared by a committee comprising faculty and staff. The committee took responses and feedback of all stakeholders of the university. “The NAAC Peer Team visited AUD during September 2014 and AUD was awarded an ‘A’ grade in December 2014,” adds Singh. GGSIPU was first accredited with NAAC in 2007 with ‘A’ grade for a five-year period. The university was again accredited with highest grade ‘A’ in 2013 for a further five-year period. ACCREDITED VARSITIES IN DELHI Name of the Institution Grade NAAC accreditation valid up to Bharat Ratna Dr BR Ambedkar University - A December 2019 Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University - A October 2018 Jamia Hamdard University - A October 2018 Jawaharlal Nehru University - A July 2017 Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan - A July 2017 School of Planning and Architecture - B September 2019 TERI University - A March 2018


 

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India trade mission a success
Concordia Journal, 11 February 2010

Under the agreement with TERI [The Energy and Resources Institute] University, to take just one example, researchers will be working on climate change, biofuels and sustainable business, all recognized areas of strength at Concordia.

  
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