Beyond Delhi: Cities with much worse air quality than the national capital get little attention

All eyes were on the Capital as it rolled out the odd-even scheme on Jan 1 as a way to tackle pollution. Many of those watching are from cities where the alarm bells are still silent.

Updated: January 3, 2016 9:57 am

Though almost the entire debate on air pollution has been centered around Delhi, there are several cities and towns in India which have much worse air quality than the national capital. Just outside Delhi, Ghaziabad is one of the most polluted cities in the country.

The Central Pollution Control Board has been running a National Air Quality Monitoring Programme since 1984 under which three pollutants — sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter of less than 10 micron (one micron is a millionth of a metre) (PM10) — are monitored. This programme now covers 254 towns and cities in 29 states and five union territories. There are 612 operating monitoring stations in these places which continuously collect data on these three pollutants.

There are 46 cities in the country with a population of one million or more. These are also amongst the most polluted. We have featured four of these cities here. Based on the average concentration of PM10 in 2013, the last year for which full data is available, Raipur in Chhattisgarh was the worst polluted million-plus city in the country, followed by Ghaziabad, Allahabad and Delhi. The acceptable limit of average annual PM10 concentration is only 60 micrograms per cubic metre (mg/cu m) but Raipur had a concentration of 305 mg per cubic metre in 2013.

A foggy polluted evening at the Vijaypath facing the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on monday. Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal New Delhi 071215 A foggy polluted evening at the Vijaypath facing the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi. (Source: Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

It was the third consecutive year that Raipur had recorded a 300-plus reading of PM10. Chhattisgarh has large deposits of iron ore and there are several sponge iron factories in and around Raipur, spewing particulate matter into the atmosphere.

Data at these 600-plus monitoring stations is collected manually, on a piece of paper, and sent to the respective state pollution control board which are mandated to send it to the CPCB every month. But many SPCBs don’t send this data on time, sometimes delaying it by even six months. As such, even the 2014 data is not entirely verified and released as of now.

In April 2015, the CPCB developed an index of air quality (AQI) based on concentrations of eight pollutants. Data of at least three pollutants, one of which was particulate matter concentration, was required to calculate the index. Real-time monitoring of these pollutants started at at least one monitoring station in 12 cities and an AQI was calculated. The programme has now expanded to cover 21 cities. Ultimately, the idea is to have a real-time AQI for every monitoring station in the country.

The AQI of several monitoring stations outside of Delhi are seen to be routinely worse than many of those in Delhi. Here is how the AQI at some of these stations looked at 7 pm on the first day of the new year.

Here are four other cities that are battling pollution in its own way:

Raipur: New capital high on the ‘dirty list’

By Dipankar Ghose:

Raipur has been the state capital for merely a decade and a half, but over the past few years, the city has consistently figured among the most polluted urban centres in India.

Chhattisgarh Environment Control Board, there are 39 sponge iron factories, seven power units and 250 rolling mills. Many in the state are unanimous that sponge iron units cause the most pollution in the area. (Express Archive) Chhattisgarh Environment Control Board, there are 39 sponge iron factories, seven power units and 250 rolling mills. Many in the state are unanimous that sponge iron units cause the most pollution in the area. (Express Archive)

“If you have driven in Raipur, you probably would never have been stopped and asked for a pollution certificate. For a city where the pollution graph is disturbing for its size, that is a big concern” (read more)

Kanpur: Dust, diesel fumes choke industrial hub

Fish food making from waste lather being in progress on the bank of River Ganga in Kanpur. tanneries major source of pollution in Ganga. Express photo by Vishal Srivastav 05.02.2015 Tanneries in Kanpur are a major source of air pollution and have polluted the Ganga heavily. (Express Archive)

By Lalmani Verma:

CPCB’s North Zone office in-charge in Lucknow, PK Mishra, attributes Kanpur’s polluted air to a combination of factors.

Kanpur Municipal Corporation’s safai karamcharis burn waste collected from residential areas and markets within the localities instead of transporting it to primary collection points. Residents, too, burn domestic waste on roadsides. In winter, slum inhabitants and vendors burn plastics and tyres as bonfire. According to a CPCB official, such combustion releases PM10 and PM2.5 in the air. (read more)

Ludhiana: More wheels on the road

By Divya Goyal:

In 2011, a WHO report named Ludhiana as the country’s “most polluted city”, but that didn’t set alarm bells ringing. In 2015, the city added an average of 10,000 private vehicles every month.

Commuters harassed as While demanding screening of the movie MSG-2 in punjab, Protesting Dera supporters blocks the Ludhiana-Delhi National Highway at Dhandari Kalan in Ludhiana. Express Photo by Gurmeet Singh. 20.09.2015. There are more than 17,000 illegal diesel autos on the roads in Ludhiana, despite a 2009 ban by the Punjab and Haryana High Court on registration of new diesel autos. (Express Archive)

There are more than 17,000 illegal diesel autos on the roads, despite a 2009 ban by the Punjab and Haryana High Court on registration of new diesel autos. “The ban was on issuing permits for diesel autos within city limits. Autos that get permits for plying outside the city flout rules and run within the city,” said Richa Agniotri, ACP (Traffic). The city has just one LPG filling station, on the outskirts, and thus LPG autos too run illegally on subsidised kitchen LPG cylinders. (read more)

Allahabad: Poor public transport

By Ramendra Singh:

Five instruments set up by the CPCB in different parts of Allahabad have been sending out alarming statistics about the quality of air in the city. But the authorities don’t think there is a problem yet. “The air quality is not as bad as in other cities,” said Sanjiv Pradhan, Environment Engineer of Allahabad Municipal Corporation. (read more)