Dehradun has always been known as the town of grey heads, and green hedges—a beautiful small town, clean, and green. To those of us familiar with the works of Ruskin Bond, the name ‘Dehradun’ still conjures up images of a pristine sleepy small town, in the lap of the mountains. However, that Dehradun hardly exists today!
Mirroring the dramatic rise in national pollution levels, the state of Uttarakhand, and its capital city, Dehradun, too are choking today. Studies conducted by the SDC Foundation found that air pollution levels have been four times higher than the accepted national standards. In 2015, CPCB report has also pointed out that PM10 concentration in Dehradun stands at 241, higher than that of Ghaziabad (235), Noida (176), or Moradabad (196). It ranks Uttarakhand as the sixth most polluted city in the country. The studies conducted by the foundation has also found out that vehicular pollution and waste mismanagement are major factors that contribute significantly to the increase in the pollution levels.
Since air pollution is, more often than not, seen as a ‘necessary evil’, an inevitable corollary to development, most people ignore its debilitating effects on human health. Reports, however, suggest that nearly 1.2 million Indians die every year, due to diseases caused by air pollution. The major cause of this is PM10, and PM2.5 pollutants that penetrate deep into humans bodies and cause various serious illnesses—from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, to asthma.
In Uttarakhand, between the years 2006 and 2014, there has been an unprecedented increase in the number of incidences of acute respiratory infection (ARI) among children, as was seen through the answer given to Question in the Rajya Sabha, in 2015. From 130,283 recorded cases in 2006, to the 211,385 cases in 2014, Uttarakhand has recorded a 61 percent increase in ARI among children. Deaths attributable to ARI have also increased from 11 in 2006, to 89 in 2014.
After speaking to a renowned ear, nose, and throat specialist, who has been practicing for 22 years in the city, it was revealed that there has indeed been a rise in the number of health complaints that could be linked to air pollution. For instance, there are more and more neonatal cases of rhinitis, and nasal blockages. There has also been a marked increase in the cases of asthma, in the recent past. These increases coincide with increased PM10 concentrations in the Dehradun air; 238mg/m3 in 2016, and 226mg/m3, in 2017 are nowhere close to the stipulated WHO standards of 20mg/m3, or even the Indian standard of 60mg/m3.
The WHO lists ischemic heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and acute lower respiratory infections in children as the key diseases caused by outdoor air pollution. ARI deaths are already increasing; indicating the rising levels of air pollution, in the city, and the state. Soon, incidences of these other diseases will also show marked increases, unless something is done to curb the rise of air pollution. Other Indian cities have begun to take measures from which Dehradun can learn—Bangalore, for instance, has made an effort to convert all its 6000 buses to CNG fuelled buses. Delhi’s diesel ban was also to achieve similar ends.
It is not only human health but also the health of trees in Dehradun that has been affected. Gently swaying mango trees, or the old sacred fig, and Ashoka trees, and the vibrant gulmohar trees that burst into bloom even in the hottest summer have always formed part of the city’s scenery. However, as per the studies which were published way back in 2010 in the New York Science Journal, revealed that there is a steady reduction in the trees’ chlorophyll levels. The study was carried out to assess the impact of automobile exhaust on some selected tree species grown around the Clock Tower area in Dehradun.
Doon Valley must soon come together to fight the menace of air pollution, or our trees will no longer grow in Doon valley.
(Author is a student of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad)