On India’s air monitoring during Diwali

An updated version of the air quality story

today’s et carries an updated version of the air quality story published yesterday — the story got reworked once i got the cpcb’s answers. as things stand, its answers resolved some of the questions in the previous avatar of the story and triggered newer ones. do take a look. and, here, the q&a with the cpcb on the air quality index.

all this is a followup to a story that appeared about ten days ago — on why india’s air quality data is garbage. you must see that.

On the proposed Air Quality Index (and flaws therein)

About six days ago, India released a draft Air Quality Index. The idea is unexceptionable. The Index seeks to make air quality more easily comprehensible by reporting air quality not as dry numbers of raw concentrations but as colour-coded assessments of health impacts — good, moderate, poor, very poor, hazardous, etc. In this story out today, I argue, however, that for the index to be useful, fundamental problems in air quality assessments need to be fixed first.

This story, as things stand, is a followup to another story on air quality published about ten days ago. You need to, if you haven’t already, read the first one. Its PDF and, here, a link.

ps: Yesterday was diwali. And, while surfing to see how air quality was faring, I saw some eye-popping numbers. See these.

numbers from the civil lines air quality station, run by the delhi pollution control committee, as of 2215 hrs, yesterday. pm10 at 1000 (safety limit: 100). pm 2.5 at 995 (safety limit: 60). shortly afterwards, pm 2.5 climbed close to 1000 as well, reaching 999.85.

numbers from the civil lines air quality station, run by the delhi pollution control committee, as of 2215 hrs, yesterday. pm10 at 1000 (safety limit: 100). pm 2.5 at 995 (safety limit: 60). shortly afterwards, pm 2.5 climbed close to 1000 as well, reaching 999.85.

look at this chart. the way pm10 levels max out at 1000 suggests that the sensor might be set up to capture levels only till 1000 micrograms/cu m (understandably, given the safe limit is 60). i wonder what was the real extent of particulate pollution yesterday.

look at this chart. the way pm10 levels max out at 1000 suggests that the sensor might be set up to capture levels only till 1000 micrograms/cu m (understandably, given the safe limit is 60). i wonder what was the real extent of particulate pollution yesterday.

i have a fairly high degree of comfort with dpcc data. less so with the cpcb and spcbs. the cpcb, last night, was ridiculous. its sites were presenting allegedly realtime data for 2013 for parts of delhi. as for the spcbs, most of them were well below delhi. but one number from ahmedabad really made me sit up. look at pm2.5.

i have a fairly high degree of comfort with dpcc data. less so with the cpcb and spcbs. the cpcb, last night, was ridiculous. its sites were presenting allegedly realtime data for 2013 for parts of delhi. as for the spcbs, most of them were well below delhi. but one number from ahmedabad really made me sit up. look at pm2.5.

The Chandasi Coal Mandi

Today’s ET carries a story on Chandasi – also spelt as Chandausi. It is a mandi — like the agri markets of India — but one dealing in coal. It is a fascinating place. Its architecture is similar to that of a farm mandi even though the commodities the two trade in are so different. It corrects a state failure — inability to supply coal to small businesses — but does so by sourcing illegal coal. Which makes it a benign institution. But it is also malign. The mandi is mired in local mafias, coal syndicates and what have you. And so, while the illegal enterprises supplying coal to the mandi make pots of money, the labour, the buyers, some of the traders, lead marginal existences.

The story in the paper, here. A longer version of the story, up on my ET blog, Anomalocaris.

where the trucks from jharia stood.

near the trucks from jharia. across the road, behind these trucks, stood trucks from ramgarh.

parmeshwar patil,  commission agent at the mandi. business is down. big traders extend credit. we cannot. a similar narrative as what one hears in farm mandis.

parmeshwar patil, commission agent at the mandi. business is down. big traders extend credit. we cannot. a similar narrative as what one hears in farm mandis.

7 in the morning. trucks coming in for the auction at 'punjab kanta', the point in chandasi where the auction happens

7 in the morning. trucks coming in for the auction clustering around ‘punjab kanta’, the point in chandasi where the selling/buying happens

buddhiram. works 20 days a month at chandasi as labour. the pay is dismal. the 'mate' (labour contractor) deducts a lot even though he does no work.

buddhiram. works 20 days a month at chandasi as labour. it takes about 7 hours to load a 20 tonne truck. the pay is about rs 800 per truck. a sum that needs to be split between all the workers. however, the ‘mate’ (labour contractor) takes about rs 230 out of that 800. the rest is what is left for the workers — say 3 per truck. it was a long chat. we started talking about chandasi. and then, the chat switched to the changes in his life which resulted in him coming to chandasi as labour, the grim state of the school where his children go, and more.

if the small traders were suffering, so were the workers.

life in a coal mandi. walk down chandasi and you see people loading, unloading, sitting around, bathing to get the coal off, trucks lurching down rutted roads…

chandasi's version of the resource curse.

life in india’s largest coal mandi. we treat the informal economy like shit.

the mandi at chandasi. the space between the highway and the village houses 700-800 depots, small yards with coal owned by relatively large traders.

between the highway and the village stand 700-800 depots. small yards owned by relatively large traders — the smaller ones have been all but pushed out as the coal business became a volumes play.

preparing to move coal from one truck to another.

preparing to move coal from one truck to another.

as in farm mandis, the coal mandi also categorises the coal it receives into different categories -- by origin, by quality, by size of the coal pieces, etc. buyers, in that sense, get coal tailored to their needs. this is quite different from the coal india approach where the only customisation is per grade/calorific value.

as in farm mandis, the coal mandi also categorises the coal it receives into different categories — by origin, by quality, by size of the coal pieces, etc. buyers, in that sense, get coal tailored to their needs. this is quite different from the coal india approach where the only customisation is per grade/calorific value.

the obligatory cycle photo

the obligatory cycle photo

another view of chandasi.

another view of chandasi.

also see these, my photos from the field while reporting on coalgate.

Why India’s numbers on air quality cannot be trusted

For some time now, India has been putting out her air quality numbers. Visit the website of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) or the State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) and you will find them. In the odd city, you will see LED displays giving real-time updates on air quality in the city. How accurate are these numbers?

Not very. To know why, click here. A PDF of the superb page my colleagues designed. And here, a link to the story.

lov verma, harsh vardhan, jp nadda…

Has the Union health ministry misled Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the AIIMS CVO matter? On August 23, health secretary Lov Verma sent a detailed note to the PMO on why Sanjiv Chaturvedi, an Indian Forest Service officer who had uncovered several scams while posted in Haryana, had been removed from the post of Chief Vigilance Officer (CVO) at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi. The note, which followed Modi’s phone conversation with health minister Harsh Vardhan on the matter, adds fuel to the controversy surrounding Chaturvedi’s abrupt removal because it contains apparent contradictions in the ministry’s own position and is silent about a BJP Member of Parliament who had sought his dismissal.

india’s subservient bureaucrats, so eager to ingratiate themselves to power.

On cleaning up India

yesterday, on the day mahatma gandhi was born, the indian government unveiled its latest mantra. ministers were out sweeping streets, saying that india needs to be cleaned. it is anyone’s guess if this new mission will fizzle out or stick around and make a difference. saying that televised tokenism is not enough, i wrote this little column on tackling the waste problem.

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