Press Conference: Air Pollution in Kolkata

Kolkata Clean Air organized a press conference on March 22nd focusing on air pollution and health in the city.

Panelists included:

  1. Dr. Abhijit Sarkar- Lead Consultant, Narayana MultiSpecialty Hospital
  2. Dr. Arup Haldar – Consultant Pulmonologist, Columbia Asia Hospital
  3. Dr. Chandrakanth – Medical Oncology Narayana Superspeciality Hospital
  4. Dr. Lalit Kapoor – Cardiac Surgeon, RN Tagore Hospital
  5. Dr. PK Hazra – Cardiologist, HOD of Cardiology, AMRI Hospital
  6. Dr. Raja Dhar – Consultant Respiratory Physician, Fortis Hospital
  7. Dr. Suman Mallick – Clinical Director, Chief of Radiation Oncology, Narayana Superspeciality Hospital

Kolkata is already infamously known as the Lung Cancer Capital of the country and reports claim that breathing the polluted air, is as bad as smoking cigarettes. It has been noted that lungs of non-smokers is as bad as that of smokers due to air pollution. Raising the red alert – eminent Doctors, Air quality Experts and Environmentalists came together under the banner of Kolkata Clean Air. They shared alarming data and facts on the issue at a press conference today – claiming there is a Health Crisis unfolding in the city of Joy due to Air Pollution.

Speaking at the event Dr. Suman Mallick, Medicine, Consultant Radiation Oncology, Narayana Super Specialist Hospital said that

Air pollution is one of the most important cause of respiratory diseases and lung cancer. The City of Joy- Kolkata has not only touched the country’s capital but have also surpassed in quite a few days in terms of air pollution. Kolkata Clean Air has come forward to spread the awareness among all citizens and to work hand in hand to provide a clean and safe environment for us and more precisely for our next generation.”

Eminent doctors specializing in cardiology, pulmonary, pediatrics all echoed that – children, elderly and people working outdoors were falling in the most vulnerable categories and were getting severely affected due to pollution. Dr Arup Halder, Consultant Pulmonologist, Colombia Asia at the event questioned the city

“Do we really care for our children? If yes, then how we can allow our beloved ones to breathe poison every minute!”  

Dr. Arvind Kumar, Chairman, Centre for Chest Surgery & Director, Institute of Robotic Surgery, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital emphasized that

“The situation is so alarming that today every child born in any urbanized & industrialized city of India smokes as many as 10-12 cigarettes a day through the pollutants present in the air. So, all the more it has become imperative to bring about a change now.”

He went onto add “The time to act is now.”

Dr.Prakash Kumar Hazra Head – Department of Cardiology, AMRI further added that

“Air pollution is causing havoc to our health and also the ecosystem of our beloved planet earth. Day by day it is increasing in severity and extent. Air pollution can change the genetic expression our next generation by epigenetic mechanism. Environmental impact can affect pregnant mother and the fetus. Irritation, difficulties in concentrating, problems with skin, eye, lung then heart takes the major burnt, other organ like brain, kidney are even not spared.”

Air pollution has become one of the largest killers in the world – responsible for 6.4 million deaths per year (1 in 9 deaths). This is three times higher than the number of deaths from AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis combined. India has the highest pollution related deaths according the Lancet Report.

While Delhi is considered the most polluted city in the world, but the experts were quick to point out that Kolkata’s air is just as bad as Delhi’s air quality. Dr Halder to this point added

“The emergence of fresh data suggests that air quality in Kolkata is as worse as Delhi with the possibility of being more detrimental due to unplanned urbanisation and vulnerable climates.” 

Dr Dhar , further added  that,

The air pollution in Kolkata is often worse than that of Delhi. The air quality in Kolkata is mainly related to diesel exhaust which results in respiratory particulate matter (RPM) of smaller particle size compared to the RPM in Delhi which is mainly a result of crop stubble burning. This results in far more acute severe asthma cases being admitted during the winter season as compared to anywhere else in the country.”

The doctors explained that air pollution is of two parts- particulate matter or gases. Particulate Matter PM (10) affects lungs and Particulate matter PM (2.5) affects heart and brain. Gases like SO2, NO2 and ozone cause damage to the lungs.  Dr. Tapan Kumar Biswas, State President, IMA Bengal State pointed out that

“PM 2.5 is the main cause for serious issues like COPD, pneumoconiosis, and lung cancer, allergic rhinitis. Air pollution affects everyone, primarily the elderly and children with bronchial asthma.”

Reports suggest that 47% Kolkata’s suffer from lower respiratory tract infection (LRTI) and air pollution is resulting in life expectancy in Bengal dropping by 6.1 years . The cases of lung cancer is the highest in Kolkata and doctors attributed a large portion of the same to air pollution, Dr Raja Dhar , Respiratory Medicine, Consultant Pulmonologist, Fortis Hospital “ A study by CNCI has also identified Kolkata as being the Cancer capital of the world. This is due to a combination of smoking and air pollution. A joint study by CNCI, WBDE & CPCB has found that around a whopping 70% of people in the city of Kolkata suffer from respiratory disorders caused by air pollution.“  Dr Chandrakanth MV, Medical Oncologist, Narayana Hospitals emphasised that “Every cell of our body breathes, multiplies and lives due to the air surrounding us. When air is contaminated, our body faces problems. Respiratory diseases like COPD, interstitial lung disease. It also increases the risk of lung cancer, head and neck cancer, bladder cancer and blood cancer. “

What is Kolkata Clean Air

Kolkata Clean Air is a citizen driven initiative with a vision for Kolkata to be one of the Most Live-able and Climate Friendly city in the World. Citizens from various walks of life and professions have came together to find solutions to air pollution. Kolkata Clean Air has installed two air monitor devices in the city at Moulali and Ballygunj, to assess the air quality. It was found that out of the 35 days recorded between Jan and March – 69% of the days, Kolkata Air quality was reported as very poor, with max AQI ranging between 300 and 400. And it was found 17% of the days reported severe levels of pollution, even touching the 500 AQI mark! The acceptable limit of AQI is under 50. In any other country such alarming levels of air quality would have led to an emergency – and led to citizen alerts, and avoidance of all outdoor exertions.

Since coming together on the 28th of January, hundreds of children and active citizens from all walks of life marched and cycled across Kolkata with air pollution masks on their faces. Through the Kolkata Book Fair Kolkata clean air team collected over 20 thousand signatures and pledges. At the event Kolkata Clean Air also launched a missed call (9289220740) campaign to take pledges of citizens.

At the event the experts pointed out that vehicular pollution especially Diesel-run taxis, buses and trucks contribute substantially to Kolkata’s air pollution, and in addition to that construction activity and open burning of municipal waste cause pollution contribute to the every increasing air pollution of the city.


Air experts demanded that air quality monitoring stations be setup across the city and a Source Based Action Plan for Abatement of Air pollution be put in place like other cities and countries have done. In addition to this the city should strongly act against offenders driving polluting vehicles, burning trash or construction sites not using permeable sheets. The group felt that it was imperative for the city to formulate and Implement a comprehensive mobility plan with an integrated multi modal public transport plan keeping Electric vehicle at the centre of the plan. Dr.Sushmita Roychoudhuri. Consultant Pulmonologist Apollo Gleneagles said that

“Polluting air today, pollutes lungs tomorrow and imperils lives the day after. We have to stop polluting our air together today to ensure a safer tomorrow.”

All doctors all agreed that a clean environment will be the best investment for our children and urged urgent action.

The experts agreed that sweeping lifestyle changes and bold policy changes are required.  The positive thing though is that there is Technical and economical feasible solutions to control air pollution are already with us. They have effectively been implemented in many countries and these countries have substantially reduced their air pollution by implementing the same. Kolkata has always been the thought leader and can again take the lead to save its citizens and show the path to other cities in India and other parts of the world.


Courtesy of Mr. Ajay Mittal, Kolkata Clean Air [cross-posted from Kolkata Clean Air] 

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