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WHO report on air pollution: Govt says made serious efforts, scientists say Mumbai not as polluted

“There is no doubt that air pollution is increasingly become a cause of concern in Indian cities. The major worry for us is PM 2.5 air pollutant in crowded Indian cities while ozone is a problem in rural areas, especially in summer,” Beig told The Indian Express.

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Pune |
May 3, 2018 2:22:47 am
Dust makes up the largest particulate matter in Mumbai, according to IMD. (Express Photo by Amit Chakravarty) 

Questioning the findings of a new global report on air pollution by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has listed Indian cities among the world’s most polluted, Gufran Beig, Pune-based project director of System of Air Quality Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, said he was not sure about the authenticity of the data cited in the report. “There is no doubt that air pollution is increasingly become a cause of concern in Indian cities. The major worry for us is PM 2.5 air pollutant in crowded Indian cities while ozone is a problem in rural areas, especially in summer,” Beig told The Indian Express.

“But I have reservations in accepting the conclusions of the WHO report, particularly about Indian cities, and the authenticity of their data base,” he said. Beig cited the case of Mumbai which has been shown to have recorded 104 micrograms per cubic metre of PM10 and 64 micrograms per cubic metre of PM2.5 in the year 2016. “This is doubtful. SAFAR is mapping Mumbai and forecasting air pollution for the last three years. I don’t think it is that polluted. Pollution in Mumbai does not build up significantly due to the coastal environment and often gets swept away due to cleaner oceanic winds. Most of the time pollution level is moderate to poor and in winters there are some days where the air quality if ‘very poor’,” Beig said.

Beig received support from Indrani Gupta of National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and P Anbalagan, member-secretary of the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board, on Mumbai’s case. “We have been monitoring air quality since 1982 and presently pollutant levels are monitored in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai , Delhi, Hyderabad and Nagpur. I have my doubts about the findings related to Mumbai. If data is picked up from traffic junctions, then the quality of air will be bad. Areas like Dharavi and Andheri are more polluted. However, PM10 levels have improved over the years due to better quality fuel being used in vehicles,” Gupta, scientist-in-charge at NEERI’s Mumbai zonal centre, said.

Anbalagan said he was not convinced of the robustness of the data presented in the report. “There needs to be five to ten years of data to arrive at such conclusions,” he said. For its pollution data on Mumbai, the WHO report cited Central Pollution Control Board and SAFAR as references, but Beig said the report certainly was not reflecting the numbers of SAFAR. In terms of PM 2.5 concentrations, Kanpur is ranked worst, followed by Faridabad, Varanasi, Gaya, Patna, Delhi, Lucknow, Agra, Muzaffarpur and Srinagar in the top-10 list, according to WHO. The only non-Indian city in the list of top-15 is Ali Subah Al-Salem (Kuwait) at 15th.

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The Centre on Wednesday said it has made “serious efforts” to fight air pollution and that the 2017 air quality data for fine particulate matter PM 2.5 has shown improvement over the previous year. In a statement, the Ministry of Environment and Forests said the improvement in particulate matter concentration in Delhi has happened despite episodic events in two successive years in November 2016 and November 2017.

“The WHO report indicates that Delhi is placed at number six with an annual average PM 2.5 concentration as 143 micrograms per cubic metre in 2016. However, the government has made serious efforts to deal with air pollution,” it said. “Data for the year 2017 for PM2.5 shows an improvement over 2016 and so far in 2018, it shows a further improvement, as compared to 2017. The government has also taken several bold initiatives, including leap-frogging from BS-IV to BS-VI,” it said.

Further, it said as most of the polluted cities lie around Delhi and along the Indo-Gangetic plain, it is critical that the governments of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal are sensitised to take up urgent action on cleaning air. “With similar intervention in other polluted cities and active participation of ULBs (urban local bodies) and state governments, air quality is expected to improve further,” the ministry said.

With inputs from ENS, Delhi

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