New Delhi: At least 60% of the 249 Indian cities, where air pollution is monitored, have recorded an increase in the level of particulate matter that can cause maximum damage to lungs.
According to an analysis of the air pollution monitoring data by the environment ministry, the levels of PM10 (particulate matter up to 10 micrometres in size), which affects people more than any other pollutant in the air, has gone up in the past three years. According to the analysis, the annual average levels of PM10 for 2011, 2012 and 2013 have exceeded in 148, 137 and 152 cities, respectively.
The most health-damaging particulate matter are those that have a diameter of 10 microns or less, as they can penetrate and lodge deep inside the lungs. They result in cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and lung cancers.
In India, air quality is monitored by the Central Pollution Control Board, state pollution control boards and the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute at 593 locations in 249 cities, towns and industrial areas. The parameters that are being monitored to ascertain air quality across these cities include PM10, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.
The environment ministry claims it has taken several measures to control air pollution, such as stringent industry emission standards, tightened vehicular emission norms, mandatory environmental clearance for specific industries, promoting cleaner technologies, strengthening air quality monitoring and preparing action plans for critically polluted areas.
To intensify these efforts, the ministry is increasing 24x7 real-time air quality monitoring stations across India and helping state authorities to prepare their “air quality management plans”. Though at present these stations exist only in 11 cities across the country, the ministry plans to extend them to 46 cities and 20 state capitals.
The environment ministry also recently launched online emission and effluent monitoring on a 24x7 basis across 17 categories of highly polluting industries.
Experts said it is high time a legal framework is devised for Indian cities to reduce pollution risk. “Clearly, the data shows that air pollution has already become a public health crisis and thereof requires urgent action. It is important that all cities have an action plan and clean standards in a time bound manner. We need a legal framework to ensure cities meet national air quality standards in a time-bound manner so that public health risk of citizens is drastically reduced,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director at the Centre for Science and Environment, a non-governmental organization.