Vasco's air quality as bad as Delhi's?

By Ashwin Tombat
13 November 2017 16:08 IST

Whispers in Delhi's corridors of power say Congress President Sonia Gandhi could be coming to Goa in the next couple of days as Delhi's smog worsens. Sonia is an asthma patient. She was in Goa  around the middle of November last year as well, to avoid the Delhi smog.

However, Sonia may not be coming to Goa for too many years more. There's one reason: Coal.

Coal imports through Goa's Mormugao Port have increased from 2.7 million tonnes (MT) in 2001 to 12 MT in 2017. And MPT plans to increase coal imports to 51 MT by 2030.

Nearly all of this coal will be transported by road and railway to steel plants and thermal power stations in neighbouring Karnataka. This will cut two thick black corridors of coal particle pollution through villages and towns in the middle and south of Goa.

As I write this, I am looking at a website ( that shows levels of air pollution in India, which it says are sourced from the Haveri station of the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB). For Vasco, it shows Particulate Matter (PM) levels as 'Severe' — above 500 microgrammes per cubic metre for PM10 particles and above 300μg/m3 for PM2.5.

This means the air that people in Vasco breathe is nearly as bad as in New Delhi!

Severe particulate matter pollution (above 430 PM10 and 250 PM2.5) "may cause respiratory impact even on healthy people, and serious health impacts on people with lung/heart disease. The health impacts may be experienced even during light physical activity", says an advisory.

The website's figures might be disputed by authorities, but there's no denying that Vasco has PM10 and PM2.5 grossly in excess of permissible levels. The Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB) will itself confirm this.

The GSCPB has been doing Ambient Air Quality Monitoring (AAQM) of PM10 and PM2.5 levels in Vasco since 2012, as per a High Court order. On 11 July, a GSPCB covering letter stated that the "analytical reports continuously indicate that concentration levels of PM10, PM2.5 and other parameters are exceeding the permissible limits".

Coal has some peculiar problems. It is brittle, easily becomes dust and, because of its low density (0.6 to 1.5), particles as large as 10 to 30 microns get airborne even in low winds. Coal dust settles in houses, on clothing, food... It reduces sunlight on leaves, affecting photosynthesis. Inhaled, it causes serious — even fatal — respiratory diseases.

New research by Harvard University's T H Chan School of Public Health suggests that present standards for particulate-matter pollution may not be strict enough. The study, led by Professor of Environmental Epidemiology Joel Schwartz, found that exposure to PM2.5 pollution is "unambiguously" associated with higher death rates even when within permissible limits. Each 10µg/m3 increase in PM2.5 concentration led to a 7.52 per cent increase in death rates in the New England area of the USA.

What will a four-fold increase in coal imports do to Vasco? What will happen in Verna and Ponda, which are on the road route, and Margao and Curchorem, which are on the railway route? What about the villages en route...?

These are facts. There's no politics here. Big talk by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Dattaprasad Naik, who said that those who complain against coal transportation should stop using electricity, is facetious and entirely uncalled for.

Mr Naik is right about the fact that coal, like casinos, were first brought by the Congress to Goa. The Congress has little to criticise the BJP; its own massive iron ore scams are still unravelling.

But the BJP has not only kept the casinos flourishing, it is massively expanding coal imports.

Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar may be right when he says that Goa's problem is not of coal itself, but of coal pollution. But the fact is that the GSPCB found that coal pollution levels did not increase substantially while it was being handled at the port. This means that better handling is unlikely to reduce pollution.

Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal has suggested covered railway wagons. They may or may not work, but they are yet to be designed, let alone produced and deployed. A large proportion of coal will continue to be transported by road; will Union Surface Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari suggest hermetically sealed trucks?  

Over Rs15,000 crore is being spent on highways, nearly Rs1,200 crore on doubling the South West Railway line and around Rs400 crore on dredging the Mormugao Port. All to import more coal and transport it to Karnataka.

The money being spent is all public. But the main beneficaries are private: Jindal, Adani and Vedanta.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

Blogger's Profile

Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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Previous Comments

Pollution will increase all over Goa with illegal Mining & with illegal Coal that all Goans has to run for the protection to the neighbouring states of India or abroad! Those who will remain in Goa will have to die very soon with pollution related diseases. Also Congress baby (Mopa Airport) nourished by BJP is coming very soon, where all greenery (oxygen) will be destroyed and Pollution will increased in many folds.

- Jack De Goan, Goa | 13 th November 2017 18:59


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