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Air pollution in 132 Indian cities is below ‘standards’

Since the introduction of a national initiative to address the issue, India’s efforts to improve its harmful air quality have failed, with the number of smog-plagued cities increasing.

According to a research by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, there are currently 132 cities with pollution levels below national requirements, up from 102 when the National Clean Air Programme began in 2019.

Limited funding, a lack of stricter emissions requirements for enterprises ranging from metal smelters to oil refineries, and delayed progress on installing monitoring stations, according to CREA, are all impeding efforts to improve air quality.

In the report, authors Shivansh Ghildiyal and Sunil Dahiya recommend that India’s government “begin acting on a war-like scale” in order to meet pollution reduction targets. “Strong initiatives across sectors should be taken to reduce emission loads.”

More than 90% of India’s population lives in locations where air quality falls short of WHO guidelines, with coal-fired power stations, industry, and automobiles among the top polluters. During the winter, due to farmers’ burning of agricultural stubble, the situation worsens, blanketing northern cities, including the capital New Delhi, in stifling pollution.

Slow progress in combating pollution risks increasing the number of people who die prematurely as a result of the country’s dirty air (an estimated 1.67 million people died in 2019 as a result of India’s dirty air), as well as putting more strain on the economy due to higher health-care costs and productivity losses. The country’s image as a commercial destination is also harmed by poor air quality, which may hinder investment.

According to the CREA research, India’s national policy intends to cut particulate matter emissions by up to 30% from 2017 levels by 2024, but so far just a few cities and none of the country’s state-level agencies have developed action plans.

Because pollution sources change from city to city, it’s critical to expedite research into air quality in various locations, according to Dahiya. “Knowing how much each source contributes to the problem might lead to more efficient use of time and money,” he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been chastised in the past for extending deadlines for power plants to meet pollution limits, and has yet to establish a deadline for reducing coal consumption, which accounts for 70% of the country’s electrical generation.