Paving way for better air quality

After years of looking the other way even as pollution levels spiked in cities and towns across the country, the Union Government has taken a positive first step by coming out with the new National Air Quality Index. 

While such a move should have ideally come at least a decade or so earlier, it is a case of “better late than never”. The index, which will start to function in a few weeks, monitors eight pollutants in each of 66 cities and towns and a colour code will indicate the levels of pollution.

This will make it easy for people to recognise the intensity of pollution and take appropriate action.  Earlier, the pollution index was a complex calculation that could not be immediately comprehended by common people. That the new index has been put together  by a group comprising leading doctors, scientists, technocrats, research organisations and NGOs is an indication that the establishment means business.

India has been a target of criticism from global bodies like the World Health Organisation (WHO) which after a recent study concluded that New Delhi had the worst air quality in the world, dislodging the Chinese capital Beijing from the top spot. Not only that, the WHO found that 13 of the world’s 20 dirtiest cities were in India and said worldwide, air pollution killed 70 lakh people in 2012.

Instituting a new air quality index, while undoubtedly the right step, is merely the beginning of a long process towards reducing the quantum of pollution in Indian cities and towns. The index will indicate whether drastic action is necessary in case pollution crosses the limits but it will not address the reason for it.

Therefore, the setting up of the new air quality index should be followed up by measures that will tackle the reasons behind the pollutants – better vehicular emission control implementation, efficient treatment  of industrial effluents and eco-friendly ways of processing garbage, among others.

Once the index becomes operational, a support structure would also need to be created that will come into play when the pollution exceeds danger levels, like temporary barring of vehicles on the road, or shutting down of factories to reduce smog or other steps that will quickly restore better air quality. 

In Beijing, in recent years, some of these steps have already been implemented when faced with egregious pollution. Instead of waiting for such emergencies, it would make sense for the government to straight away start putting in place complementary mechanisms that will keep citizens safe by ensuring that pollution never crosses the uppermost limit.

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