New Delhi: Greenpeace India Tuesday launched its 'Clean Air Nation' movement and appealed to the government for "urgent" improvements to National Air Quality Index (NAQI) to help citizens tackle pollution effectively.
The green NGO also referred to "severe" limitations to current Index and said it is limited in its scope, lacks transparency and is not designed to make air quality data widely available or useful to citizens.
"NAQI can be a powerful tool if implemented correctly. Accurate information about the quality of air we are breathing is a crucial first step in the public campaign for clean air," said Nandikesh Sivalingam, Campaigner, Greenpeace India, which has recently been mired in controversy.
She said there is an urgent need to fix NAQI, before it can actually deliver on its promise of providing reliable and transparent information.
"The Index data also needs to be used more proactively, with adequate information shared about precautionary measures that the public can take while the authorities take action to address the root causes of air pollution," said Sivalingam.
Greenpeace India urged the government to make urgent improvements to NAQI as a first step towards securing what it has referred to as citizens' "birthright to clean air". A recent status check on NAQI implementation by Greenpeace found discrepancies in the investment in infrastructure.
The NGO said while Delhi has 10 continuous monitoring stations, Chennai, Bangalore and Lucknow have three stations each, Hyderabad two and the 10 other cities covered by NAQI have only one station each.
"Even in Delhi, NAQI data is rendered meaningless as the current information dissemination system is unreliable, no agreed steps to be taken by local authorities on days with heavy pollution and no plan for how the data can be used to inform citizens' fight against pollution," the NGO said in a statement.
Referring to the recent WHO study of world's 20 most polluted cities in which 13 are in India, Greenpeace India said that it is a clear indication of the urgent need to act on air quality.
"Clean Air Nation is an initiative to show people's power of reclaiming their right to clean air. The government must deliver a transparent, reliable and uniform NAQI across India, so that they can act on pollution before we reach a point of no return," said Sivalingam.
"It is good to expand NAQI across the nation. That is one of our key demands. But more importantly, it needs to be supported by appropriate infrastructure and a clear action plan. In its current form, NAQI is like an alarm clock left on mute - it may or may not show the right time when you look at it, but it's no use if you sleep right through it," said Sivalingam.
Greenpeace also carried out an air quality monitoring survey in four key locations in Bengaluru including that of Christ College, Hosur Road and Reserve Bank of India on Nrupathunga Road.
An eight-hour real-time average of PM10 levels revealed that air pollution levels were peaking at 13 times the government safety limits and 26 times that of the WHO standards during the sampling duration.
Rising levels of air pollution have a direct impact on citizens' health as medical professionals are witnessing.
"There are multiple studies linking exponential rise in the air pollution levels to premature deaths in the country. There is greater need than ever for people to be informed about the quality of air they are inhaling, the impact on their health and the precautionary measures needed," said Sivalingam.