India's smoggy capital tries a whiff of fresh air
New Delhi: India has switched on its first public air purifier in the heart of capital New Delhi as part of an experiment that backers say could help other smog-choked cities in emerging countries.
The maker of the seven-ton machine, Italy's Systemlife, claims the box-like structure can purify 10,000 cubic metres of air every hour, scrubbing out pollutants such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide.
The unit, plugged in Saturday on a traffic-clogged street of central Delhi, is a pilot that could lead to more being installed in other areas of the city, ranked the world's fourth most polluted by the World Health Organisation.
"It is the first such project in India and if it works then we would acquire a number of them and place them at strategic locations," the health chief of the New Delhi Municipal Council, P.K. Sharma, told.
He said a state environmental agency will monitor the performance of the machine, which costs about 25 million rupees (551,000 dollars) and works like a vacuum cleaner, sucking in air and releasing it purified form from a roof vent.
"Money does not matter when health is in question," Sharma said, adding that the purifier would be tested for three months at the site, which is drawing curious onlookers.
The electricity-driven unit, installed free of cost, uses a five-stage filtering process including electrodes to remove health-threatening solid and gaseous pollutants.
"Almost all Indian cities and especially New Delhi needs them," said Ritika Modi, director of the Indian partner company of Systemlife.
The Italian company has installed similar public purifiers at 26 locations in Spain, six in Switzerland and seven in Italian cities, including in the capital Rome, according to a statement issued by the firm.
Environmentalists said they could only give a thumbs-up to the machine after the tests were over, which will include an examination of the filters by the Italian firm after three weeks of operations.
"We have to examine the variation in air quality, but this can be done only after we analyse the readouts," said Vivek Chattopadhyaya, an air analyst with the Centre for Science and Environment, an environmental research and lobby group.
Environmental scientist D. Saha from the Central Pollution Control Board said the state-run watchdog would also keep a check on the success or failure of the Italian unit.
In November, the city government vowed to enforce a single standard for industrial and residential pollution as part of plans to tighten air quality rules.
Previous rules allowed lower air quality in industrial areas compared with residential areas. The city government is also mulling the idea of shutting down thousands of industrial units as well as open-air eateries ahead of the Commonwealth Games later this year in a bid to clear up the city smog.
The Commonwealth Games of October 3-14 are set to draw 8,000 athletes and officials to New Delhi as well as 100,000 visitors.
In 2008, New Delhi and Indian financial centre Mumbai were ranked among the world's 25 dirtiest cities by Forbes Magazine.