New Delhi: Indians would live a year longer, if the country were to achieve its air quality standards, a study by researchers from the University of Chicago and Harvard University said.

“This number would increase to four years if India were to meet the World Health Organisation (WHO) norms. Some of the greatest gains would be seen in the country’s largest cities such as Delhi. There, people would live six years longer if air quality met the national standards. Similar gains are expected across the Indo-Gangetic plain, including in the rural areas," said The Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago in a study titled A Roadmap Towards Cleaning India’s Air.

Delhi is among the most polluted cities in the world. The issue of tackling pollution had also become a political flashpoint between the Union and state governments. Various solutions to tackle the problem were implemented, such as the odd-even scheme, but the city’s air quality continue to remain a major concern.

Air quality is measured based on the number of small particles in every cubic metre of air capable of entering the bloodstream through the lungs. According to a January 2018 survey by Greenpeace Environment Trust that covered 630 million Indians, 550 million live in areas where particulate matter exceeds the national standard, and many live in areas where air pollution levels are more than twice the stipulated standard.

The latest study also found that the odd-even scheme in Delhi was effective in reducing particulate matter (PM) 2.5 by 13% during the first half of January 2016, when vehicles with odd-numbered licences plates were permitted to ply on odd-numbered days, and even-numbered ones on even-numbered days.

However, there was no effect in April 2016, when the scheme was reintroduced. “In contrast, the analysis found no evidence of an effect during the April round. The absence of an April effect could have been due to greater dispersion caused by warmer temperatures. The results of the odd-even programme suggest that driving restrictions could be the most effective as emergency measures during the worst periods (e.g, winters)," the study said.

Although Delhi witnesses a spike in PM2.5 limits round the year, the PM2.5 concentrations increase in October-November, which is also the peak season for paddy harvesting, when abundant crop residue is burnt by farmers to prepare for next crop.

The study also makes policy recommendations, including making information public about polluters, providing regulators with real-time data, improving emissions monitoring by better aligning auditors’ incentives, using monetary charges for excess emissions and using markets to reduce abatement costs and pollution. Such efforts may also help India achieve its climate change commitments. India is now the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China, and among countries most vulnerable to climate change. India plans to reduce its carbon footprint by 33-35% from its 2005 levels by 2030, as part of its commitments to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted by 195 countries in Paris in 2015.

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