We Breathe Polluted Air Beyond Permissible Standards Across India


Every single day, we in India who walk the streets of our country, India, breathe polluted air way beyond permissible standards for our health. Several reports had been published over the years about the abysmal state of air pollution in New Delhi, the capital. A few government interventions like taking vehicles of over 15 years off the streets and making it a punishable offence to drive them. Buses and autos were ‘greened’ with a change in fuels being made by them. And ofcourse a lot of new tree cover was planted across Delhi to get the free clean up act which trees can give us.

However now damning information obtained by Greenpeace India through online reports and Right to Information applications from State Pollution Control Boards across India, shows that none of the Indian cities comply with standards prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and very few cities in southern India comply to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) standards. The information was revealed in a report titled ‘Airpocalypse’ that assesses air quality in 168 cities across 24 states and union territories and pinpoints fossil fuels as one of the main culprits for the deteriorating air quality across the country. The report highlighted Karnataka like many other cities has not complied with the WHO and National Ambient Air Quality standards.

We who live in Karnataka and who have lived in Bangalore over the decades, can especially feel the deterioration of air quality, in the Central Business District (CBD) area. There are no rules with regard to pollution especially by government vehicles in the city which are the worst offenders. The BMTC buses, vehicles run by the Karnataka Police, BBMP vehicles which collect garbage everyday from different localities are the wors offenders, belching thick black smoke into the faces of pedestrians and passers-by.

According to Green Peace, the air pollution levels for cities in Karnataka highlighted that PM10 were higher than the annual average of 60 µg/m3 as prescribed under NAAQS. Levels of PM 10 in the atmosphere in Davanagere, Bengaluru, Tumkur, Riachur and Hubbali were respectively 109, 119, 118, 87 and 80 µg/m3 for year 2015-2016.

For those who do not understand the different levels of pollution: Visible smoke is comprised of particles of PM10 size or larger. The particles with the greatest health effects are those within
the “respirable range”, that is between PM10 and PM0.1. The respirable range contains particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs and deposit there; particles smaller than PM0.1 are usually exhaled. Fine and ultra fine particles (PM2.5 and PM 0.1) are not visible to the eye (2.5 microns is approximately 1/30th the size of a human hair). 1.6 Million more people die due to air pollution in India and China according to Greenpeace, India.

The top 20 most polluted cities have PM 10 levels between 268 µg/m3and 168 µg/m3 for the year 2015-2016. While, Delhi tops the list with 268 µg/m3, it is followed closely by Ghaziabad, Allahabad, and Bareli in Uttar Pradesh; Faridabad in Haryana; Jharia in Jharkhand, Alwar in Rajasthan; Ranchi, Kusunda and Bastacola in Jharkhand; Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, and Patna In Bihar; with PM10 levels ranging from 258 µg/m3to 200 µg/m3.

The most polluted cities are spread across the North India, starting from Rajasthan and then moving along the Indo-Gangetic belt. A closer analysis of the data obtained through RTI and previous studies on air pollution pin-point to continued use of fossil fuels as the main culprit for the dangerous rise in the level of pollutants in the air.

A Greenpeace India previous report estimated that air pollution led to approximately 6 lakh more deaths than what was estimated in 2015 at the GDP level. Comparing to world’s leading economies-EU, China and the US, India’s air pollution policy scenario stands weak.

Sunil Dahiya a Green Peace campaigner says, “Air pollution is no more just the problem of Northern India and Delhi, Bengaluru and many other urban centers in southern India are breathing hazardous levels of pollutants in the air and its time the people in Southern India also rise up to demand and contribute towards their right to clean air and move away from polluting fossil fuel based society to clean and greener option of clean energy and transport system. An aggressive shift towards public transport from the government and public is the need of the hour along with tacking other relevant sectors to make the air breathable for us and generations to come.”


While Delhi underwent a severe air quality check, it’s time Bengaluru woke up on its air pollution snag. The main source of pollution in the city is the exponential growth in the number of vehicles. Vehicular pollution constitutes about 42 per cent of the air pollution in the city. Based on the report the pollutants shows significant contribution of anthropogenic sources i.e., fossil fuel burning, to the overall air quality in the city.

For Karnataka, a 2010,TERI report highlighted PM10, SOx and NOx

Sources PM10 SOx Nox
Transport 42 % 16% 68%
Road Dust Resuspension 20%
Construction 14%
Industry 14% 56% 8%
DG Set 7% 23% 23%
Domestic 3% 1%

Further explaining the report which was aimed at highlighting the fact that air pollution needs to be addressed as a national problem, Sunil Dahiya says: “India’s pollution trends have been steadily increasing, with India seeing more deaths than China in 2015. India’s deteriorating air quality demands an urgent robust monitoring system. This report clearly shows that air pollution is not restricted to Delhi alone. Thus, our pollution reduction strategies need to be much more ambitious, systematic and with focused targets with clear timelines. Accountability and a compliance mechanism should be in place, with no leniency towards the fossil fuel dependant sectors such as, power and transport.”

Marianne Furtado de Nazareth  is the former Assistant Editor, The Deccan Herald, adjunct faculty, St. Joseph’s PG College of Media Studies & a PhD scholar at the Madurai Kamaraj University

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