New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday launched a national air quality index (NAQI) that will rate the quality of air people are breathing in 10 cities in real time.

The index will cover Delhi, Agra, Kanpur, Lucknow, Varanasi, Faridabad, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. The index will be later expanded to 46 more cities having a population of more than one million, besides 20 state capitals.

Concerns have risen about air pollution in Indian cities. A recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO) said that of the 20 most polluted cities in the world, 13 are in India, with Delhi at the top.

“The air quality index may prove to be a major impetus to improving air quality in urban areas, as it will improve public awareness in cities to take steps for air pollution mitigation," environment minister Prakash Javadekar said.

However, introduction of the index was marred by glitches. Of the 10 cities, the index for Agra, Faridabad and Ahmedabad could not be calculated as they had “insufficient data".

While some cities have multiple air-monitoring stations, some have only one. The environment ministry plans to have an average of four stations in every city covered by the index.

On Monday, there were several monitoring stations that were not working properly and giving insufficient data. Of the four stations in Delhi, one was not working.

“Monitoring stations at several cities were showing insufficient data. To roll this out, they have to ensure the monitoring stations are maintained properly. It’s a huge monitoring infrastructure issue. They would have to put in place good-quality controls. There needs to be a focused effort. Monitoring infrastructure will be a critical issue," said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director (research and advocacy) at Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), an environmental non-governmental organization. She expressed concern that if monitoring stations doesn’t work, the plan could fail.

Meanwhile, Modi, who inaugurated a two-day national conference of environment and forest ministers of the state governments and Union territories in New Delhi where the index was launched, said his 10-month-old government is focusing on clean energy in a big way, citing its emphasis on solar, wind and biomass energy.

Highlighting India’s tradition of living in harmony with nature, Modi said India should lead the global fight against climate change, regretting that the country is often seen as a hurdle.

“People of India have been the protectors and devotees of nature. We need to project this fact properly, so that the world realizes that India cannot be questioned in this regard. Indians have always conserved nature, and even today, have among the lowest per-capita carbon emission, globally," said Modi.

“We want to reduce carbon emissions…but unless we bring a change in our lifestyle, we will not be able to save the environment," said Modi.

“Instead of being forced to follow parameters laid down by others, India should lead the world in the fight against climate change," the Prime Minister added. He also released a standard ‘Terms of Reference for Environment Impact Analysis’ prepared by the environment ministry.

The standard ToRs are expected to cut delays by at least one year in projects getting green clearances.

Javadekar called it a step that would contribute to ease of doing business.

Modi also asked urban bodies across India to focus on solid waste management with programmes to generate wealth from waste.

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