231 out of 287 Indian cities severely polluted: Greenpeace India air quality report

In the south, the pollution levels in 28 cities were above the limits; none in Kerala.
231 out of 287 Indian cities severely polluted: Greenpeace India air quality report
231 out of 287 Indian cities severely polluted: Greenpeace India air quality report
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A recent report by Greenpeace India has put the focus back on including more Indian cities in the list of ‘non attainment’ cities under the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) initiated by the government of India. The Indian division of the global environmental group released its ‘Airpocalypse IV’ report on Tuesday, which is an assessment of the air pollution levels across the country.

According to the report, out of the 287 Indian cities which have more than 52 monitoring days of data in 2018 under the National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme (NAMP), 231 cities were severely polluted, with PM10 levels exceeding the limits set under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). According to NAAQS, the PM10 levels set for industrial, residential, rural and other cities in India over a 24-hour period is 100 µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre air) and the average over a year is 60 µg/m3.

Jharia in Jharkhand recorded the maximum level of PM10 pollutants with 322 µg/m3 in 2018, followed by both Dhanbad in Jharkhand and Noida in Uttar Pradesh at 264 µg/m3. Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh was recorded as the third most polluted city in India with 245 µg/m3.

While nine cities in Karnataka - Bengaluru, Raichur, Belagavi, Tumakuru, Kolar, Bijapur, Hubli, Dharwad and Bagalkot - are heavily polluted as per the report, four cities in Tamil Nadu - Trichy, Thoothukudi, Madurai and Chennai - also have high levels of PM10 pollutants in the air. Kothur, Hyderabad, Ramagundam, Karimnagar, Warangal, Khammam, Sangareddy, Patencheru and Adilabad in Telangana have air pollution levels higher than the limits set by NAAQS. In Andhra Pradesh, Vijayawada, Visakhapatnam, Kakinada, Rajahmundry, Srikakulam and Anantapur have pollution levels slightly higher than the NAAQS limits.

As far as Kerala is concerned, none of the cities exceeded the level of PM10 limits set by NAAQS. Kochi recorded the highest air pollution levels in the state at 57 µg/m3.

The report also shows that around 200 Indian cities apart from the 102 cities listed in the NCAP are severely polluted, thus indicating the need to expand the list of ‘non attainment cities’ under the NCAP.

Need to expand NCAP list

The first NCAP for India was released by the union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in January 2019. One of the important goals set in NCAP was to formulate a national-level plan to reduce air pollution levels (levels of PM2.5 and PM10 in the air) by 20-30% when compared with 2017 by the year 2024. Non attainment cities are cities that don't meet the pollution guidelines as per the Ambient Air Quality India (2011-2015) report and the World Health Organisation report 2014-2018. The original NCAP also recognised 102 cities as ‘non attainment cities’ which needed to take efforts to address the air pollution levels. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has also submitted the names of 20 more cities to be added to the existing list of non attainment cities, taking the tally to 122.

Shweta Narayan, Coordinator of Healthy Energy Initiative India, says that the fact that only Thoothukudi from Tamil Nadu finds place among the non attainment cities under NCAP questions the scientific basis of the policy.

“Tamil Nadu is one among the five most industrially developed states in the country, and are you saying that we don't have any area with hazardous air quality? That is completely unimaginable scientifically. We are among the top five states to produce hazardous waste in the country as well. How come we don't have a pollution problem?” she questions.

Adding that more coordination is needed to make NCAP effective, Shweta alleges that the ministry lacks a comprehensive process to address the problem of air pollution in the country. “In my opinion, the government came up with NCAP because of immense pressure from the public and courts. However, it is not a consultative process in which the inputs from other ministries and departments are taken into consideration. It is only the MoEFCC, CPCB and State PCBs which are involved. I don't think the problem of air pollution can be solved by one ministry or one department,” she explains.

The Airpocalypse report demands that NCAP be notified and given legal status to make it more effective on the ground. The report also mentions that the NCAP must define city-specific targets in air pollution reduction rather than just give a blanket target of 20-30% reduction by 2024. 

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