After four years and spending nearly Rs 6,900 crore, there’s been a “marginal” improvement in India’s top 10 most polluted cities – but pollution continues to breach “safe limits”.
These are the findings of a study by , a joint project by Climate Trends and Respirer Living Sciences, and published on January 10.
The study isn’t good news for the central government’s flagship National Clean Air Programme, launched in January 2019 by the ministry of environment, forest and climate change to address air pollution in 102 cities and reduce particulate matter levels.
This list was later edited to 131 cities across India. They’re called “non-attainment cities”, the study explained, since they didn’t meet national ambient air quality standards between 2011 and 2015.
The NCAP had identified India’s 10 most polluted cities in 2019. Four are in Uttar Pradesh (Ghaziabad, Noida, Moradabad and Varanasi), three in West Bengal (Howrah, Kolkata and Asansol), and one each in Rajasthan (Jodhpur) and Punjab (Mandi Gobindgarh), with the capital city of Delhi rounding out the list.
The programme’s target was initially to reduce pollution levels by 20-30 percent by 2024. Last year, it was revised to 40 percent by 2026. Since 2019, a total of was released to the cities under the NCAP and the 15th Finance Commission.
Newslaundry had that the NCAP’s targets seem like castles in the air. Now, NCAP Tracker’s study confirms this. In 2022, nine of the 10 cities registered only a “marginal drop” (1.67 percent to 41 percent) in PM 2.5 levels since 2019, while the least polluted cities registered an increase in PM 2.5 levels from zero to 44.12 percent.
Moradabad performed the best, recording a 41 percent fall in PM 2.5 from 2019 to 2022, while Mandi Gobindgarh did the worst, recording an increase in PM 2.5 by 18.03 percent.
And in all 10 cities, PM levels “continued to breach the Central Pollution Control Board’s safe limits”.
Some better, some worse
India’s current annual average safe limits for PM 2.5 and PM 10 are 40 micrograms per cubic metre and 60 micrograms per cubic metre. PM 2.5 and 10 are tiny particles that can be lodged in the lungs; PM 2.5 is approximately three percent the diameter of a single human hair.
For 2022, the NCAP Tracker identified India’s most polluted cities, in terms of PM 2.5, as Delhi, Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Patna, Muzaffarpur, Noida, Meerut, Gobindgarh, Gaya and Jodhpur. While Ghaziabad was India’s most polluted city in 2019, that mantle now falls to Delhi. Its annual average PM 2.5 was 99.71 in 2022, even though this is an improvement of seven percent from 2019.
While most of these cities are located in the Indo-Gangetic Plains, the data shows that coastal cities are “equally affected by air pollution”. The study quoted Aarti Khosla, director of Climate Trends, as saying, “Many cities are still far from reaching their reduction targets and may be unable to do so without aggressive plans and stringent measures.”
In 2019, NCAP Tracker identified the 10 least polluted cities in India, based on PM 2.5 levels, as Vijayawada, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hubbali, Solapur, Rajamahendravaram, Mumbai, Chandarpur, Nashik and Navi Mumbai. But by 2022, Mumbai and Navi Mumbai registered the highest increase in PM 2.5 levels of 44.12 percent and 33.33 percent, respectively.
In fact, all 10 cities bar one – Rajamahendravaram in Andhra Pradesh – registered either an increase in pollution levels, or no change. The PM 10 level in Aurangabad almost doubled in the last four years, from 76 to 150, while Mumbai’s readings jumped 46 percent from 82 to 120.
Currently, the cleanest city out of the list of 131 is Srinagar. Other cities in the list include two from Karnataka (Hubbali and Bengaluru), and one each from Nagaland (Kohima), Tamil Nadu (Chennai), Andhra Pradesh (Rajamahendravara), West Bengal (Haldia), Maharashtra (Nashik), Uttar Pradesh (Gorakhpur) and Telangana (Hyderabad).
NCAP Tracker also compared the most polluted and least polluted cities in terms of their PM 10 levels. Delhi’s PM 10 levels dropped by 1.84 percent between 2019 and 2022. Talcher in Odisha and Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh registered the highest falls of 52.25 percent and 46.73 percent respectively. Mandi Gobindgarh was an outlier again, recording an increase in PM 10 levels of 5.97 percent.
Ronak Sutaria, the founder and CEO of Respirer Living Sciences, was quoted as saying: “The analysis shows a clear trend that for the more coarse PM 10 pollutant, levels in all the 10 most polluted cities of 2019 have shown a clear improvement in 2022...Conversely, all the 10 cleanest cities by coarse pollutant levels in 2019 have shown a deterioration in their air quality levels by 2022.”
On the more harmful PM 2.5 pollutant, he said that the improvements “have been marginal at best. This shows that much work is needed to reduce the finer sources of pollutants.”
It should be noted that the study only considered cities reporting a monitoring uptime – referring to availability of data in the form of readings in a 24-hour period – of over 50 percent. Of the 131 cities, data is available only for 77 on the Central Pollution Control Board’s website. Of the 77 cities, 57 were analysed for PM 10, and 54 for PM 2.5 by NCAP Tracker.
Newslaundry contacted the public relations officer of the ministry of environment, forest and climate change for comment. This report will be updated if we receive a response.
Infographics by Gobindh VB.
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