New Delhi: A house panel Monday said it was "strange" that Environment Ministry was not ready to "accept" studies linking mortality with air pollution as it recommended restricting use of personal vehicles through an efficient and cost effective public transport system.
The parliamentary panel also asked the government to encourage clean vehicle technologies through "fiscal incentives".
The committee on Demands for Grants (2015-16) of the Environment Ministry noted that the problem of air pollution is "real, widespread and critical" which also finds support in studies conducted by Central Pollution Control Board and other government agencies itself.
The committee found it "strange and ironical" that the Environment Ministry is neither ready to "rely on or accept" epidemiological studies linking mortality with air pollution conducted by reputed international institutes nor "inclined" to accept findings of CPCB.
"The committee recommends urgent remedial and purposive action within a specified time frame to address the grave and critical challenge of deteriorating ambient air quality...
"...Which has serious consequences for the health and well being of our citizens in derogation of their constitutional right to a better quality of life, free from avoidable diseases as guaranteed under article 21 of the Constitution," the committee noted.
The committee chaired by former Union minister Ashwani Kumar has also recommended the introduction of a toll free common helpline telephone number on a national-level for making complaints against those agencies and individuals found polluting the environment.
"The committee recommends that the government try to restrict the use of personal vehicles through an efficient and cost effective public transport system and also encourage clean vehicle technologies through fiscal incentives," the committee said.
The panel felt that the Environment Ministry should advise civic agencies in Delhi and other metropolitan cities to shift to vacuum cleaning and till that is in place, to clean and sweep roads during nights after sprinkling water so that dust settles down by morning.
The committee has also urged the government to safely dispose dust collected and strictly enforce ban on burning of stubble leafs, garbage and other waste material like tyre, polythene and ensure safe and scientific disposal of construction and demolition waste.
The committee also recommended washing of tyres of vehicles coming out of construction sites, keep loose soil, sand and other construction material liable to create dust under cover and to keep construction material away from foot-path.
Taking note of the recent launch of Air Quality Index, the committee said that it will be successful in its true sense if the Ministry based on the air quality status puts in place short term response plan with health advisory and alarm systems for closing schools, factories and reducing number of cars on roads so that even those not closely following the Index could benefit from the service.
The committee noted that as per news reports of 180 cities monitored by CPCB in 2012, only two cities in Kerala meet the criteria of low air pollution.
The committee said that as per WHO air quality data base of 1,600 cities and 91 countries, Delhi has the most polluted air in the world.
The concentration of PM2.5 fine respirable particles which is considered most dangerous for health is highest in Delhi at 153 microgrames per cubic meter as against the WHO standard of 10 micrograms per cubic meter.
The committee said that the concentration of PM10 in Delhi is about 286 micrograms per cubic metre, 14 times higher than the WHO annual mean standard of 20. The panel also quoted a report by Centre for Science and Environment which showed that PM10 concentration in Delhi's air has increased by about 75 per cent from 2007-11.
"What is worrisome and frightening is the fact that its intensity and enormity continues to multiply with the passage of time but the responsible institutional machinery does not appear to be serious about doing anything to rein in the monster of pollution," the committee observed.
The committee observed that a 64-day study of air monitoring stations in the NCR region by CPCB found that the average Benzene level to be 14 micrograms per cubic metre which was almost three times higher than the safe limit of five in Delhi. Benzene is linked to certain kind of lymphomas, a cancer that begins in the immune system.
Other Indian cities which have a very high-level of PM10 include Gwalior, Raipur, Lucknow, Gaziabad and others, the committee said.