Air pollution levels far exceed the prescribed standards in 15 out of 17 Indian cities where National Air Quality Index (NAQI) stations are situated, Greenpeace India said on Tuesday.
The NGO released a ranking report of the 17 cities covered by NAQI, which claimed to have revealed data to challenge the complacence of the central and state governments regarding cities other than Delhi.
It said the report is the first analysis of air pollution levels in Indian cities carried out using the NAQI system. Greenpeace India said that the shockingly high pollution figures recorded between April and November indicate the continuing severity of the "air pollution disaster".
The assessment report said the official data showed that pollution levels in cities including Delhi, Ahmedabad, Varanasi, Patna, Agra and Kanpur exceed famously toxic levels in Beijing and other Chinese cities, over the period covered by the NAQI data.
NAQI was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to monitor quality of air in major urban centres. "As the political capital and the most polluted of all cities, the bad air in Delhi gets the most attention. But, scratch below the murky surface and you will find concentrations of PM2.5 in several other cities - Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Muzzafarpur and Faridabad, amongst others that would justify the triggering of a 'Red Alert'.
"Even the government's own, largely inadequate NAQI data reveals that 23 of the 32 stations across India are showing more than 70 per cent exceedance of the national standards," said Sunil Dahiya, campaigner, Greenpeace India.
The report said that Delhi's levels over the eight months of data were 12 times as high as the WHO annual guideline and three times as high as the national standard. Another six cities Lucknow, Faridabad, Ahmedabad, Kanpur and Varanasi -- had average levels at least 10 times as high as the WHO annual guideline, it said.
Comparing the situation in China and India, Delhi's PM2.5 levels in July-November were almost twice as high as the levels in Beijing over the same period (132 vs 69 g/m3), and were even higher than the levels in the most polluted provincial capital - Jinan in Shandong, the report said.
It said that PM10 levels in Delhi in the same period were more than three times as high as in Beijing. The report also referred to a modelling study carried out by two Indian researchers at IIT-Delhi which found that 60-90 per cent of PM10 in Delhi is due to emissions outside the megacity.
Noting that much of the debate on air pollution focuses on Delhi, the green NGO said, "Delhi smog" is actually a "misleading" expression and satellite images of the winter-time pollution episodes show smog extending all the way from Punjab to Bihar, making "North India smog" a more appropriate label.
Greenpeace India said that India's NAQI system remains poor with most prominent cities lacking real time monitoring stations far behind the standards followed in the top 20 biggest cities of European Union, the US and China.
On average, there are four air quality stations in cities in EU countries, five in US cities, and eight in Chinese cities displaying real time pollution levels, whereas 10 of India's biggest cities do not even have a single such monitoring station, it said
Dahiya went on to add that pollution levels in a few Indian cities have embarrassing distinction of having exceeded the toxic levels of Beijing and other Chinese cities, demonstrating levels at least ten times higher than the WHO standards, making air pollution truly a national emergency. As part of the first such initiative on analysing air pollution data, Dahiya said that the NAQI in its present form, fails to acknowledge the scale of the problem.
"Data is only available in seventeen cities, which is a shockingly low number considering the size of our country. There is an immediate need to diversify and upgrade the manual stations to ambient air quality monitoring stations feeding data to the online NAQI portal. The existing system needs to include short and long-term solutions and advisories," he said.
The report said that the official data confirmed that exposure to toxic particulate pollution (PM2.5 and PM10) is alarmingly high in most Indian cities and National Ambient Air Quality Standards are being continuously violated.
It said that the three key contributors to particulate pollution levels are emissions of dust and soot, SO2 and NOx, which form particulate pollution in the atmosphere.
Analysis of the chemical composition of PM2.5 pollution indicated that during Delhi's most polluted season, 25 per cent of the PM2.5 is secondary, meaning that controlling regional SO2 and NOx emissions can be an important approach to tackle the pollution.