NEW DELHI: India has overtaken China's air pollution levels in 2015 and the average particulate matter exposure was higher for the first time in the 21st century, a Greenpeace analysis of NASA satellite data has shown.
"For the first time this century, the average particulate matter exposure was higher for Indian citizens than that of Chinese people. "China's strong measures to curb pollution have contributed to the biggest year-on-year air quality improvement on record while in contrast, India's pollution levels continued a decade-long increase to reach the highest level on record," Greenpeace India said in a statement.
It said as per World Health Organization (WHO), India is home to 13 out of 20 most polluted cities in the world with deteriorating air pollution levels in the past decade, particularly in North India. Greenpeace, in its National Air Quality Index (NAQI) ranking report, had earlier said that as many as 15 out of 17 Indian cities with NAQI stations showed levels of air pollution that far exceeded the prescribed Indian standards.
The report had also revealed that 23 of the 32 stations across India are showing more than 70 per cent exceedance of the national standards, putting public health at risk.
Greenpeace observed that the most important aspect to fight air pollution is a robust system to curb air pollution in public domain that empowers people to take action to safeguard their health and the government to issue red alerts during bad air days and take policy decisions in the long term.
The green NGO said India's NAQI network with 39 operating stations also compares poorly with the 1,500 stations in China. "The satellite images until 2005 showed India's pollution, while serious, was lot lower than eastern China's. In 2015, India particulate pollution stands higher than that of China, after increasing at an average rate of 2 per cent over the past decade," it said.
The NGO said that in China the particulate pollution levels rose an estimated 20 per cent between 2005 and 2011. Due to growing dependence on fossil fuels, the Chinese situation had been deteriorating. However, after adopting a comprehensive National Action Plan in 2013 with strong policies and stricter enforcement, China's particulate trend started bending, as 2015 witnessed a fall of 15 per cent as compared to 2014, it said.
"There is an urgent need to set a deadline for meeting the national air quality standards with long term and interim targets and action plans. The plan should have mechanism to monitor the progress and empower authorities to take actions on compliance and noncompliance of the targets.
"The air pollution crisis is an opportunity to test India's emergency response plan and design coordinated action for a 'Clean Air Nation'," said Sunil Dahiya, Campaigner, Greenpeace India. Elaborating about the India-China pollution scenario, Lauri Myllyvirta, air pollution specialist with Greenpeace East Asia said that China is an example of how determined policies and tougher enforcement can turn the tide on air pollution to people's benefit.
"The Indian government needs to have plans to avoid the same disastrous health impact due air pollution has had in China. Given that the pollution travels hundreds of kilometres, there should be national, regional and city level action plans with measurable targets to lower pollution levels," she said.
Greenpeace also stressed the for India to lay down a focused and time bound action plan to mitigate air pollution crisis. It said the government has recently introduced multiple conscious steps such as the 'odd-even policy', car free day and stricter emission standards for thermal power plants and moving to Bharat VI vehicle emission norms by April 2020.
"There must be a comprehensive regional and city action plan contributing to the National Clean Air plan," the NGO said.