Eminent environmentalist Sunita Narain has stressed the need for an “air pollution subsidy” programme to make households move from solid fuels to LPG and reduce the burden on the health of poor women. She also said air pollution is a political issue and people won’t get the air they deserve if “we don’t get the politics of development right”.
“The government’s Ujjawala programme is an excellent effort and Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) said ‘I am taking the subsidy from the rich and giving it to the poor and I am also doing it to prevent women from getting exposed to air pollution’. This is an excellently structured programme.”LPG cylinder has reached the people, but they are not buying a refill… The problem is we do not value the labour of women,” Narain said in response to a question at a discussion on air pollution.
Solid fuel is not a predominant source when it comes to pollution in Delhi. However, it’s a very prime source when it comes to women’s health in rural areas in north India where the inversion of air happens, she said.An inversion represents a layer of the atmosphere that gets warmer with height. A layer of cooler air is trapped near the ground by a layer of warm air above the surface. When the air cannot rise, pollutant concentration increases.
“Unless you have inclusive growth and the poor women can move from chulha to cleaner fuel, you will not get the air we deserve.”So, air quality is a contested issue, it’s a political issue… if we don’t get the politics of development right, we won’t get the air we deserve… that’s where politics and environment come together when it comes to air pollution,” Narain, the director-general of the green think tank Centre for Science and Environment, said.
“The government should come up with an air pollution subsidy programme in all non-attainment areas in India. This subsidy should be given to all households to move from solid fuels to LPG,” she suggested, adding, “On a pan-India basis, my suggestion would be to give people electricity to cook food.” Non-attainment areas are those that have fallen short of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for over five years.
The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, launched on May 1, 2016, aims to provide clean fuel to women below the poverty line to prevent health-related issues. Under the scheme, financial support of Rs 1,600 is provided for each LPG connection for BPL households. The connections are given in the name of the women head of the households.
The scheme is being implemented using the money saved in LPG subsidy through the ‘give-it-up’ campaign. People who have given up subsidies are buying LPG cylinders at market price. Narain also said the overall pollution from electric vehicles is not lower than BS VI-compliant vehicles.”Only thing is you’ve moved pollutants from Delhi to Chhattisgarh where power plants are.”So, if we are looking to find a solution from electric vehicles (EV) we need to move our power plants to cleaner coal or move them to gas or renewables to reduce emissions. The overall impact of EVs will be much better if the electricity is clean,” she said.
However, EVs will play a much better role in Delhi as they do not have the factor of local pollution compared to diesel and petrol vehicles.”Still, you need to transform mobility if you want to have a greater impact of EVs. Bringing in a few cars and autos won’t work. We will see an impact if we have all cars, taxis, autos and buses running on electricity,” Narain said.
She also said there has been a lot of effort to complicate the sources “so that we do not act (against air pollution)”.”We need more knowledge, science, we need to know more sources of pollution. But we first need to act on what we know.”The inability to act has also a lot to do with the fact that it is an extremely politically contested issue… Air pollution is not a very polite issue which can be discussed very gently because it has interests which are in the interest of air pollution versus what needs to be done,” the environmentalist said.
Narain said a lot has been done to improve the quality of fuel and vehicle technology. But “now the problem is the very large number of vehicles on the roads”, she said.”It’s simple science. If you keep adding vehicles on the roads, you end up negating the impact of cleaning the fuel and vehicles. We need a complete reinvention of mobility, which we have not even begun to address,” she said.