6th April 2016 marks the first Anniversary of the launch of National Air Quality Index (NAQI) platform. The platform was adopted from similar platforms working in other regions such as the US, China and the EU. NAQI addresses the health emergency prevalent in these regions through equipping the regulator and motivating the public to take stringent measures to reduce air pollution exposure. This becomes even more necessary in India due to the rapid industrialization, the socio-economic status of Indian population as well as the physical geography of the country which makes it more susceptible to this national health emergency!

Pollution at the India Gate, Delhi

To address and respond to this emergency, we believe that the Indian public has the right to first know about the quality of air that they breathe. The next step is to learn about the precautionary and mitigating measures which can be adopted by general public, while the regulator addresses larger factors/sources. Following the bewildering statistics posted by the WHO report, highlighting 13 of 20 most polluted cities present in India, the Indian Prime Minister on 6th April 2015 launched the NAQI web portal with information on pollution levels across major urban centres available to the general public. However, even after a year of the NAQI platform launch and implementation we are still very far from the basic conceptual framework as highlighted below:

Table 1: Implementation of planned/proposed actions/measures under NAQI: April 2015 to April 2016

S. No.

What was Planned (As on 6th April 2015)?

What is the status now (As on 2nd April 2016)?

1

Efforts to be made to connect more cities, where continuous monitoring systems were operated by various State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs).

There are 39 stations connected to the NAQI web portal.

2

It was planned to strengthen the network of monitoring systems in all 46 cities having population more than a million and 20 State Capitals, and networking them to the central AQI portal, in phased manner.

There are 23 cities where the CAAQM (Continuous Ambient Air Quality Monitoring) stations have been connected to NAQI web portal.

3

With regard to manual stations in the 46 million plus cities, SPCBs were advised to use AQI calculator and publicize it with minimum time lag, as required for laboratory analysis.

Latest report available on bulletin of NAPM is from October 2015 and that had summary of AQI calculated from 168 stations spread across 85 cities. On NAQI Platform no real time data is available with time lag of even a week as suggested by IIT Kanpur Study.

4

Each of these cities connected to NAQI was planned to have 6-7 continuous monitoring stations with AQI display boards.

Apart from Delhi as of 2nd April 2016 there is no city where 6-7 CAAQM stations are connected to NAQI platform.

5

Ranking of cities was planned to be done every six months on July 1st and January 1st. It is necessary to have data from at-least 3 stations within the city to do the ranking. 

The values based on CAAQM stations are presented by CPCB every month. But coverage in terms of number of stations connected in every city is not as proposed.

6

It was proposed that for CAAQM stations, AQI is reported in near real-time for as many parameters as possible.

This has been working with certain deviations where stations are either not measuring PM10, or PM2.5 or 3 parameters in total, which are necessary to compute AQI such as IHBAS in Delhi.

7

For manual stations, the daily AQI was planned to be reported with a lag of one week to ensure manual data are scrutinized and available for AQI.

There is no such system to present the near real time data on AQI from manual stations. 

When NAQI platform was started in April 2015 there were 40 CAAQM and as of October 2015 there were 612 manual Stations spread across 254 cities/towns in India measuring parameters like PM10, PM2.5, NO2, SO2, CO and O3. Whereas on 2nd April 2016 there are only 39 stations spread across 23 cities which are providing data to the public through the NAQI platform, leaving most of the Indian population without any information on the air they are breathing. Provided we are equipped with many manual stations, which allows data to be uploaded online with a time lag of 2-7 days, what’s stopping us to make such huge data public for people? Even at the places where CAAQM stations are connected to NAQI web platform, people do not necessarily get to know the air pollution levels. There is a need to make the network and the entire platform a bit accessible and user friendly to all kinds of audiences, throughout the length and breadth of India.

Following are some of the measures which can be taken to strengthen the NAQI platform for effective data sharing and coverage:  

  • Upgrading manual stations to continuous ambient air quality monitoring stations, feeding data to online NAQI portal.
  • Expanding the distribution and reach of such real time data to the general public through various mediums, such as TV, Radio, Newspapers, Mobile Apps and Web Portals.
  • Issuing real time health advisory with the data on air pollution to the general public, suggesting them to take concerned actions and activities with the varying pollution levels.
  • Issue directions to the polluting sources for reducing their operations on bad air days (highly polluted days) by adopting a system when Government can issue alert in real time to the industries and general public.
  • Including long term and chronic health impacts from air pollution in the health advisory to be issued.
  • Display the daily AQI from manual stations with the minimum time lag on the NAQI platform which can technically increase the data sharing from 39 stations and 23 cities to over 650 stations and 250 cities.
  • Formulate a robust system for checking the errors in systems, to correct the CAAQ stations as soon as possible if there not functioning well and there are data errors or gaps.
  • The platform should grant users access to archive data to permit comparisons between cities and analysis of trends.
  • The data made available on the platform clearly shows that air pollution levels in Indian cities far exceed safe levels and national air quality standards, constituting a public health emergency. The government needs to urgently draw together plans to bring the hazardous levels of air pollution down on the national and regional levels.

 

Sunil Dahiya is an Air Pollution Campaigner with Greenpeace India.