Firefighters inspecting the Bellandur lake in Bengaluru on Saturday. The lake, known for its high levels of pollution, caught fire on recently, sending out huge clouds of smoke on the Yemlur side.(PTI)
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Towns with cleanest air in India still don’t meet WHO levels: Greenpeace

The temple town of Hassan in Karnataka, hilly Pathanamthitta in Kerala and Nongstoin in the West Khasi Hills of Meghalaya have the least particulate matter in air in the country.
By Anonna Dutt | Hindustan Times, New Delhi, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 29, 2018 10:42 PM IST

The air quality in India’s cleanest towns does not meet the World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, according to a Greenpeace India report.

With an annual reading of 26 µg/m3, the temple town of Hassan in Karnataka, hilly Pathanamthitta in Kerala, or Nongstoin in the West Khasi Hills of Meghalaya have the least particulate matter in air in the country, but are still higher than the 20 µg/m3 annual mean safe level recommended by the WHO, Greenpeace India report, Airpocalypse-II says.

Following these cities are Darjeeling (29) in West Bengal and Tura (30) in Meghalaya, as per 2016 data available for 280 cities.

Around 550 million people live in places where PM10 exceeds the standards, with 180 million of them living in areas with PM10 double the permissible standards.

The study found that 228 cities and towns — 80% of the places surveyed — exceeded the annual permissible concentration of PM10 of 60 microgram/m3 set by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).

Delhi was the most polluted with an annual PM10 average of 290, which is close to five times the permissible limit, followed by Faridabad in Haryana (272), Bhiwadi in Rajasthan (262), Patna in Bihar (261), and Dehradun in Uttarakhand (238).

“When we talk about air pollution in India, the focus is on Delhi, but many other cities are hardly better off,” said Sunil Dahiya, senior campaigner at Greenpeace.

Thirteen of the 20 most polluted cities are in India, according to the WHO’s Global Urban Ambient Air Pollution Database 2014.

“What’s worse is that the air-quality data is available for only 53% of India’s population, that too if we assume that one monitoring station is enough to actually give reliable figures for an entire district or city,” he said.

“The government has no air-quality data for areas where 580 million Indians live, including 59 million children under the age of five, who are at an increased risk of developing chronic respiratory problems,” said the Greenpeace report.

The report also accused the Centre of not having time-bound plans to tackle pollution.

“Apart from Delhi-NCR, where a Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) has come into force, no other city seems to be taking any action of any worth against the polluters,” the report said.

A senior environment ministry official, on condition of anonymity, admitted that it was “valid criticism”, but added that the ministry was in the process of launching the National Clean Action Plan, under which source apportionment studies will be done in nearly 100 cities where the pollution levels are high.

The report sourced data from 87 CPCB stations and 683 monitoring stations that record the numbers manually across 300 towns. “The data for 20 was not shared despite RTIs. The challenge with manual stations is that it can be tampered with and very few record daily data,” Dahiya explained.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) runs 87 real-time automated air-quality monitoring stations for a population of 1.3 billion; only 11 more than Taiwan, which has a population of 23.5 million. The rest of the stations are run by district pollution control committees.

Since the monitoring stations are few and far between in remote areas, the annual average data are often not representative of the entire district.

Dr D Saha, scientist and spokesperson from Central Pollution Control Board, said the 87 stations are integrated with the Air Quality Index.

“By the end of this year, we plan to set up 221 stations,” he said, adding that the plan was to target the most populated mega cities first, followed by cities with million-plus population and state capitals, and then problem areas, such as industrial hubs.

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