Sting in the air

WHO report should raise questions on India’s big-city centred pollution mitigation efforts

By: Editorial | Updated: May 5, 2018 12:11:00 am
Sting in the air The global health body’s database should serve as a wake-up call for Indian policymakers whose efforts to curb air pollution have, by and large, centred on big cities.

The WHO’s global pollution database, that was released this week, is not the first worldwide survey to give Indian cities a poor report card on air quality indicators. In what should be worrying news for policymakers, the survey counts 13 Indian cities, other than Delhi, as among the top 20 hotspots of PM 2.5. The tiny but deadly air particles that can increase the likelihood of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases are the most conspicuous in Kanpur, the database reports. The city’s PM 2.5 levels are more than 17 times the safe limits prescribed by the WHO.

The global health body’s database should serve as a wake-up call for Indian policymakers whose efforts to curb air pollution have, by and large, centred on big cities. More than a fourth of the automatic air quality pollution monitoring centres in the country are located in Delhi. Kanpur, the worst performer on the WHO index, has just one centre to monitor real-time air quality.

It is salutary that the Survey has come barely 10 days after the draft National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) was put up in public space. The draft, which remains open for comments till May 18, does talk of tripling monitoring centres. But monitoring should be the first step towards addressing a problem, whose complexity owes much to the interplay of regional and local geological exigencies.

For example, North India, the hub of pollution in the country, is landlocked, which means that the bad air does not find a quick release, unlike say, in Mumbai, where the sea absorbs a lot of the pollutants. In many areas in the region, including Kanpur, a substantial chunk of the particulate matter is transported from the up-wind states. It then remains trapped in the city for long periods. Policies must be devised keeping such constraints in mind.

However, the problem has to be acknowledged first before policies are made to surmount it. Worryingly — especially in light of the WHO report — the draft NCAP does not set any pollution reduction target. This is a climbdown from the concept note for the programme, released in March, that targeted reducing pollution by 35 per cent over the next three years, and 50 per cent over the next five years. The draft takes a city-specific approach. The WHO report should alert the government to the fact that such an approach needs to be synchronised with one that takes the regional landscape into consideration.

For all the latest Opinion News, download Indian Express App

Share your thoughts
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Adda
Advertisement