Greenpeace has pointed out severe limitations to the Index as it currently stands: it is limited in its scope, lacks transparency, and above all, it is not designed to make Air Quality data widely available or useful to citizens.
“The National Air Quality Index can be a powerful tool if implemented correctly. Accurate information about the quality of air we are breathing is a crucial first step in the public campaign for clean air,” said Nandikesh Sivalingam, Campaigner, Greenpeace India, “But there is an urgent need to fix the NAQI, before it can actually deliver on its promise of providing reliable and transparent information. The Index data also needs to be used more proactively, with adequate information shared about precautionary measures that the public can take, while the authorities take action to address the root causes of air pollution.”
A recent status check on NAQI2 implementation by Greenpeace found discrepancies in the investment in infrastructure: only Delhi has 103continuous monitoring stations; Chennai, Bangalore and Lucknow have three stations each; Hyderabad has two; and the 10 other cities covered by the NAQI have only one station each capable of making NAQI data available online.
Additionally, even in Delhi, the NAQI data is rendered meaningless, as the current information dissemination system is unreliable, no agreed steps to be taken by local authorities on days with heavy pollution, and no plan for how the data can be used to inform citizens' fight against pollution.
“It is good to expand the NAQI across the nation; indeed, that is one of our key demands,” continued Nandikesh, “But more importantly, it needs to be supported by appropriate infrastructure and a clear action plan. In its current form, the NAQI is like an alarm clock left on mute: it may or may not show the right time when you look at it, but it’s no use if you sleep right through it!”
A recent World Health Organisation study4 listed the world’s 20 most polluted cities, with as many as 13 of these in India: a clear indication of the urgent need to act on air quality. Greenpeace also carried out an air quality monitoring survey5 in four key locations in Bengaluru, including that of Christ College, Hosur Road and the Reserve Bank of India on Nrupathunga Road.
An eight hour, real-time average of PM10 levels revealed that air pollution levels were peaking at 13 times the Indian government safety limits and 26 times that of the World Health Organisation (WHO) 6 standards during the sampling duration, with average pollution levels 1.3 and 2.5 times higher than the CPCB7 limits in two locations.
Rising levels of air pollution have a direct impact on citizens’ health as medical professionals are witnessing. H Parmesh, Paediatric Pulmonologist, Lakeside Hospital, Bengaluru said, “In the last 15 years, summer-time asthma cases in Bangalore in the under 18 age group has gone up by 27%, whereas the persistent and very severe asthma has increased from 4-11%. These children are on steroids and are constantly expected to be in medical care. Exposure to high levels of pollution, particularly on cold winter mornings, exercising or playing sports, makes children more susceptible to respiratory ailments."
“There are multiple studies linking exponential rise in the air pollution levels to premature deaths in the country. There is greater need than ever, for people to be informed about the quality of air they are inhaling, the impact on their health, and the precautionary measures needed. Clean Air Nation is an initiative to show people’s power of reclaiming their right to clean air. The Government must deliver a transparent, reliable and uniform National Air Quality Index across India, so that they can act on pollution before we reach a point of no return,” concluded Nandikesh.