Prime Minister Narendra Modi today launched the National Air Quality Index (AQI) for monitoring the quality of air in major urban centres across the country on a real-time basis and enhancing public awareness for taking mitigative action.
As part of the endeavour, the Union Environment Ministry proposes to extend the measurement of air quality to 22 state capitals and 44 other cities with a population exceeding one million.
Launched during the two-day Environment and Forest Minister's conference, AQI assumes significance as Delhi -- which has been termed one of the most-polluted cities in the world -- and other cities in the country have raised deep concern over their deteriorating air quality.
The AQI has been at present launched for 10 cities -- Delhi, Agra, Kanpur, Lucknow, Varanasi, Faridabad, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad.
It will have 'one number, one colour and one description' to inform the public about air quality in a simple and easily understandable format.
The ministry said that each of these cities will have 6-7 continuous monitoring stations with AQI display boards.
"The AQI may prove to be a major initiative for improving air quality in urban areas as it would enhance public awareness and involvement and create a competitive environment among cities to take steps for air pollution-mitigation," it said in a release.
The ministry said that, traditionally, air quality status has been reported through voluminous data, but it is important that such information is put in the public domain in a format that can be easily understood by a layman.
The AQI has been developed by the Central Pollution Control Board in consultation with IIT-Kanpur and an expert group comprising medical, air-quality professionals and other stakeholders.
The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), which has been demanding adoption of an AQI for a long time, welcomed the launch and said it was "an important step forward for building awareness and protecting public health."
It added that it was "time to push for aggressive and time -bound action in Delhi and other Indian cities to meet clean- air standards and reduce the public health risk."
There are six AQI categories, namely: Good, Satisfactory, Moderately polluted, Poor, Very poor and Severe.
The index considers eight pollutants -- PM10, PM2.5, NO2, SO2, CO, O3, NH3 and Pb). The likely health implications of the six categories would also be provided with a colour code.
CSE said that with this step, India has joined the global league of countries like the US, China, Mexico and France that have implemented smog alert systems.
"These countries not only issue smog alerts, but also implement pollution emergency measures to bring down peak pollution levels. Indian cities need the same roadmap," it said.
For the first time, CSE said, the government has taken the initiative to inform people about daily air quality with simple descriptions that are easy to understand.
"It is cautioning them about possible health consequences. This can help build public awareness as well as public support for hard decisions needed to get cleaner air," said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director in-charge of clean air and sustainable cities programme at CSE.
CSE has also urged the government to expand and improve the air-quality monitoring network across cities to generate real-time data and feed the public information system.
The ministry should also ensure good-quality monitoring while undertaking dissemination of daily air quality index and health advisories widely through print and the electronic media as well as other communication channels, it added.
It also urged the government to implement pollution contingency measures to bring down peak pollution levels during severely polluted days.
AQI will be used to inform people about daily air quality and to provide advisories on health consequences. It will tell how clean or polluted the air is and what associated health effects might be of concern. This can help people take precautions on "bad air" days.
"For instance, good air quality days mean minimal health impact. But, on moderately-polluted days, it may cause breathing discomfort in those suffering from lung or heart diseases.
"On severely-polluted days, pollution may cause respiratory effects even in healthy people and serious health impact in people with lung disease. The ministry has also taken additional steps to report on two toxic pollutants –- lead and ammonia -- that also have harmful effects over time," CSE said.