After a WHO report listed 14 Indian cities as the most polluted in the world, environment and health experts today said that this is yet another grim reminder that air pollution is a national health crisis and India needs to do more to tackle it. They also said that this is a “dire warning” and aggressive national and state-level action is needed.
Data released by WHO showed Delhi and Varanasi among the 14 Indian cities that figured in a list of 20 most polluted ones in the world in terms of PM2.5 levels in 2016. The global health body also said nine out of 10 people in the world breathe air containing high levels of pollutants.
“The report by WHO is a warning about the serious and run-away pollution and public health emergency that confronts India today,” said Sunita Narain, director general, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). Greenpeace India said this data clearly shows that India needs to do more towards solving the air pollution crisis.
It said the WHO report contains data for only 32 Indian cities for the year 2016 while Central Pollution Control Board and State Pollution Control Boards monitor air quality data for 300 cities in the country. It’s surprising that the WHO report contains data only for 32 cities. This could be due to the lack of readily available data in the public domain, it said.
Greenpeace India referred to its Airpocalypse-II Report which it said had complied data from 280 cities across India.
The data highlighted that more than 80 per cent cities had pollution levels beyond National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) set up by CPCB which is even worse than what can be interpreted from this dataset by WHO.
The body also said that the environment ministry has identified 100 non attainment cities under National Clean Air Programme. However, the NCAP misses three of the 14 of most polluted cities highlighted in the WHO report — Gaya, Patna and Muzaffarpur.
“WHO report clearly underplays the situation by mixing up data from many years. In reality the situation in India is much worse. It’s imperative that the NCAP has clear targets for pollution reduction and interim milestones,” said Sunil Dahiya, senior campaigner at Greenpeace India.
Anumita Roychowdhury, CSE’s executive director and the head of its Right to Clean Air campaign, said that there is a need for a strong legal for compliance with national air quality standards in all cities. “This is yet another grim reminder that air pollution is a national health crisis. We urgently need a strong legal framework for compliance with national air quality standards in all cities,” she said.
She said urgent intervention is needed for implementing the National Clean Air Action Plan with a strong compliance strategy to meet the clean air standards in all cities and asserted that it requires hard action. CSE said real-time air quality monitoring, especially that of PM2.5, will have to be expanded significantly to assess air quality in all cities with sizeable population.
Out of the 5,000 odd cities and towns in India, monitoring is being done in only 307 cities – moreover, most of this is manual monitoring that reports data with considerable time lag, it said. “State governments will also have to wake up to ensure action plans are implemented with utmost stringency and aggression.
“India needs massive energy transition across industries and households, mobility transition to public transport, walking and cycling, and effective waste management to control this run-away pollution,” said Roychowdhury.
Reacting to the WHO report, Dr Vinay Aggarwal, past president of Indian Medical Association (IMA), said that metro cities in northern India have pollution levels far beyond the permissible limits in comparison to southern metro cities like Chennai and Bengaluru.
“Vehicular pollution still has a major contribution even after conversion of vehicles to CNG, still the emission is not under control.
“If you look at the periphery of Delhi which is surrounded by Sahibabad, Gurgaon, Faridabad or Sonepat, the industrial emissions from the factories are also one of the major contributing factors. In the recent years, level of PM 2.5 have drastically increased and is three times higher than the safe standards,” he said.
A higher rate of morbidity and mortality is associated to ambient air pollution, he pointed out.
“There is a rise in cases of respiratory and pulmonary ailments and in comparison to last year, there is a 45 pc hike in asthma and COPD patients and 30 pc rise in lung cancer. Cardiac ailments and stroke also has contributed a 28 pc rise of morbidity, he stated.
On the other hand, the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry asked the Centre to form a ‘holistic strategy’ with sufficient funds to evolve quicker solutions for drastic curtailment of PM Levels in the air of its large cities including metros on lines of China.
“Therefore what is called for is a formation of holistic strategy in which Centre and states including UTs should have equitable involvement with same sense of commitment and accountability so that pollution levels are brought down with suggested a road map in place,” he said.