NEW DELHI: The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) list of the world’s most polluted cities brought cheer to Delhi.
The Capital lost the most polluted tag. But even a cursory look at the data revealed that Indian cities located north of the Vindhyas — not far from Delhi — were the most polluted and this is where the fight to make the air cleaner should begin.
The WHO data said of the 20 most polluted places in the world (out of the 3,000 included), 10 are in India. Delhi is at number 11 and Gwalior and Allahabad are at number 2 and 3, respectively.
The inference is clear: People living in the country’s upcoming towns and cities are bearing the brunt of the country’s lackadaisical attitude in cleaning the air.
What the WHO says about India’s tier-two cities is something the country’s pollution watchdog, the Central Pollution Control Board’s data has been observing for the last 15 years.
The board’s data showed air pollution in smaller cities such as Gwalior, Allahabad, Kanpur, Jodhpur, Ludhiana and Bhopal has been rising at a much faster pace than in the big metros.
The ranking shows Uttar Pradesh has the largest number of polluted cities followed by Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Environment experts say the focus on Delhi’s pollution failed to raise similar issues in other towns. Delhi has better air quality monitoring and better fuel quality standards than other cities.
The green brigade is now waiting for Delhi and other big cities to adopt Bharat Stage VI fuel — which will be a big push in the fight against pollution.
Currently, Delhi and 32 other big cities have the BS IV norm. The rest of the country is still following the BS III norm.
Reliance on private transport in tier-two cities is increasing because of struggling public transportation.
“These upcoming cities are a public transport nightmare,” said SunitaNarain, director general of the Delhi-based air pollution advocacy g roup, the Centre for Science and Environment.
“These cities need to be made smart with relation to public transport and health,” she said.
Others have been stressing the need for a coordinated effort in the entire region to fight pollution.
“There is an urgent need of coordinated inter-agency efforts to address air pollution at national and regional levels. That a whole region is suffering from the problem has been reinforced by the findings of various research bodies, including IIT Kanpur, the WHO and the government’s own Central Pollution Control Board,” said Greenpeace India campaigner, Sunil Dahiya.
“Pollution does not recognise political boundaries, with polluted air travelling across long distances. Air pollution is a national crisis, and demands a concerted national action plan in response,” he said.
According to him, the rise of fossil fuel consumption in India and unclean industry has contributed to an increase in air pollution levels.
The significant increase in secondary particles such as SO2 and NOx in particular are contributing to the overall pollution, he said.