Air pollution crisis in Northeast India

Air pollution has been an important concern in recent years, not only in India but around the globe as well. When it comes to air pollution and a huge carbon footprint, one city comes to everyone's mind: Delhi. India’s capital is famed for its dirty air, but fears have lately been raised for another town in India's northeast, following Guwahati.


The question here is how the northeastern states, which are lush and beautiful metropolises with pure blue skies, become victims of pollution. How did they get their name on the list of the 100 most polluting cities in the world and the 10 most polluted cities in Asia?

After years of discussion by the Centre for Science and Environment, it has become evident that air pollution is no longer a winter occurrence or a primary issue, but rather a worldwide rising catastrophe for the ecology. Accordingly, the amount of poisonous air in northeastern cities such as Guwahati and Byrnihat increased significantly.

Last year, Guwahati had significantly poorer air quality than Delhi and Mumbai, according to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). From the Air Quality Index of more than 300, it is pretty clear that the city faced below-standard days. As a result, Assam was responsible for the bad air quality in Byrnihat. 

According to the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board (MSPCB), excessive concentrations of particulate matter levels may be given to the build-up of pollutants attributable to emissions from enterprises located in the Byrnihat industrial region. In response to the report, the Meghalaya government has directed Chief Secretary DP Wahlang to approach his Assam counterpart about coordinating air quality monitoring in the Byrnihat area.

Prestone Tynsong, Meghalaya's deputy chief minister, believes that the pollution in Byrnihat is most likely led by industries and manufacturers on the Assam side (near Byrnihat), as there are hardly any factories on the Meghalaya side.

What he meant was, that there are various factories in Assam but on the left where is Meghalaya, there is only a limited industrial area which is been watched closely by the Pollution Control Board, Shillong.

According to the CPCB's air quality index report, Byrnihat is the most polluted site in the country, with an air quality index of 302 at 4 PM on October 25, 2023, and was labeled as 'very poor'. While, Guwahati was ranked 95th last year, because of the PM concentration, and as per WHO rules.

These factors can be used to determine how much polluted air the people of the northeast have been inhaling. As far as we know, Delhi is the most polluted city in India, but these places appear to be on the cusp of another major air pollution crisis. Concerning other difficulties, doctors have been noticing an increase in severe lung disorders, and other serious respiratory issues among residents during the same time period.

According to the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), a 2019 initiative launched by the Union government to enhance air quality in 131 of the most polluted cities in India, seven cities in the northeast are represented on the list of 131 non-attainment cities which includes Nagaon, Nalbari, Sibsagar, Dimapur and Guwahati from Assam, Silchar from Nagaland and Byrnihat from Meghalaya. NCAP still has to do more for the northeastern cities to assist them in developing robust evaluation frameworks and individualized action plans.

The sudden rise in AQI in several northeastern places over the past few months has drawn the attention of the National Green Tribunal. The air quality is getting worse because of dust particles, burning biomass, and vehicle pollution, all of which are very bad for people's health in the city and the whole hill state ecosystem.

In response, the NGT took strong action by telling the Assam government to set up a committee to fight air pollution and make good use of solid waste. The committee is in charge of keeping an eye on the progress of the project, and the air quality in Guwahati and other towns in Assam. Also, the NGT has set a strict limit for the completion of flyovers and six-lane projects by December 31, 2023. They want all levels of government to act quickly and completely protect the environment, highlighting the important role that states and local governments play in keeping it clean. Apart from this, air quality devices with sensors were also installed interesting the neighboring states.

The former vice president of the U.S. Al Gore says,- “Pollution should never be the price of Prosperity.” But, the opposite is happening, so, what initiatives are the governments and the societies lacking? 

The severe air pollution problem in Northeast India makes it clear that measures taken by the government alone are not enough to stop this disaster from getting worse. It's also important to highlight and use the actions or lack of actions of citizens and civil society to deal with this urgent problem and make sure the region has a cleaner, healthier future.

Written By:

Rupali Kushwaha

Rupali Kushwaha is a content writer who has written about health, sports, education, the environment, and technology. She has a Master of English from IGNOU and an ongoing Master of Business Administration from Jain University. She is looking forward to continue her contributions to the writing community.

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