Most cities don’t meet prescribed WHO standards for pollutant levels; most of India is also not monitored, says CSE report
A report released by Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on World Environment Day 2019 shows that a large number of Indian cities need to reduce PM10 levels by over 50 per cent to meet World Health Organization (WHO) prescribed levels of 20 ug/m3 (microgramme per cubic metre).
The report titled At the Crossroads is a review of annual average air quality data of the last three years for 43 Indian cities.
The review shows that while Ghaziabad will have to reduce its particulate pollution by 77 per cent, Delhi will have to do the same by 76 per cent. Other cities like Varanasi, Kanpur, Dhanbad, and Lucknow have 71-72 per cent more concentration of PM10 than the WHO prescribed levels.
India launched its National Clean Air Action Plan (NCAP) this year, with an aim to reduce particulate pollution by 30–35 per cent by 2024. Under the NCAP, a 102 cities that have pollution levels higher than the standards, have been earmarked.
However, the review by CSE shows that the actual reduction target needed in most cities is much higher than the NCAP target.
While none of the 43 reviewed comply with WHO’s annual PM10 standard, some like Chennai and Madurai have low reduction targets (3 and 13 per cent respectively), which can be achieved faster than others.
“This defines the level of stringency needed to meet the clean air standards and that has to inform all sectors of mitigation, the report said.
“The NCAP will have to be reinvented, to be on mission mode for well-aligned action across sectors with clear budgetary provision, clearer role of the Central government, stronger reporting, monitoring and compliance mechanism for on-ground changes,” it added.
But cities can come up with adequate policies only when there is enough data on air quality and access to information on a daily basis.
The CSE study highlights that currently only a small part of the country is under surveillance, a mere five per cent of the total 6,166 census cities and towns.
Under the National Air Quality Monitoring Programme (NAMP) of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), there are 731 monitoring operating stations covering 312 cities and towns.
These stations monitor four pollutants — sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, respirable suspended particulate matter (PM10) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). But there is an acute deficit in real-time monitoring data in most parts of the country.
Most of these monitors are manual and monitor air only twice a week, with 104 observations in a year. There are only 168 continuous real-time monitors covering 102 cities, a mere 1.7 per cent of the total cities.
Interestingly, approximately 48 per cent of these real-time monitoring stations in the country cover only three states: Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana.
“This means that most of India is not monitored. The national air quality reporting is done based on manual monitors. Real-time data is not analysed regularly for comprehensive reporting on annual trends,” the report said.
Only Delhi has made substantial progress to increase its monitoring stations that track air quality continuously and relay real-time information to 34.
“The time lag in reporting of data from manual monitors does not allow immediate policy action or self-protection. Due to heavy dependence on manual monitoring, data on PM2.5 — which is tinier and more harmful — is not available for most cities,” it noted.
“Without real-time monitors, it is not possible to leverage Air Quality Index (AQI) for daily relay of air quality information to people,” it added.
According to the State of Global Air 2019 estimates, over 1.2 million Indians died early due to exposure to unsafe air in 2017. Air pollution is now the third-highest cause of death among all health risks, ranking just above smoking, in India.