Govt begins giving out daily air quality bulletin for 11 cities

Exactly a month after launching the national Air Quality Index (AQI), which had its share of teething problems, the Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar on Wednesday announced the release of a daily air quality bulletin for 11 cities, including Delhi, based on prominent pollutants. 

He also said the Centre would launch its “fresh air as birthright” awareness campaign from 20 cities across the country in June. 

“The index, showing air quality in these cities, is based on a quite comprehensive and robust system of data collection at different monitoring stations. It shows overall air quality of a particular city”, said Javadekar in an interview to the TOI. 

Not shying away from sharing details which show “severe” and “very poor” air quality of Faridabad and Delhi, respectively, Javadekar said, “We are quite transparent in sharing those data. We have been sincerely making efforts to curb air pollution. I would also appeal people to help us in our endeavor to clean the air in Delhi and other cities”. 

AQI bulletin is based on 24-hour average value in case a city has multiple monitoring locations. Air quality may show variations across locations. Though averaging is not a scientifically sound approach, this method is being followed for the sake of simplicity. 

Asked about air quality data, which is being collected by multiple agencies including the US embassy monitoring station, Javadekar said, “I don’t want to dispute anybody’s data whether the city’s air is three-fold bad or four-fold bad. Bad is bad. We have to contain it”. 

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) had, in fact, started compiling city-wise comparative index from May 1 but decided not to announce it till the time it tests and re-tests it while checking its system and related network. It finally started uploading it on its website with Javadekar on Wednesday defending its decision to go ahead with it despite public criticism on bad air quality in Delhi and elsewhere. 

Javadekar said, “Even in this crisis situation, we had decided to launch the AQI system because we believe in transparency and honest action. We want to tackle the issue, keeping people in the loop. After all, they will also have to play their part in curbing air pollution”.

The cities which come under the CPCB’s daily AQI system include Delhi, Faridabad, Agra, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kanpur, Lucknow, Navi Mumbai and Varanasi. The comparative index value list on May 6 did not include Varanasi due to power failure in the city (particularly in the area where the monitoring station is located). 

“Such and other problems, however, are not limited to India. If you look at the data of advanced countries, you may find some missing figures or gaps in the system which involves sophisticated instrument, network and connectivity”, said a senior CPCB official who worked on developing the system. 

Citing example of the US, the official showed the TOI how all figures are not available at all locations. The US AQI, accessed at 11.30 PM on May 5, showed that the AQI was not available for 116 out of 426 locations. 

Javadekar said, “Our system is getting matured. I would like to appeal people, media, NGOs and experts to look at our efforts and come out with constructive suggestions to further improve the system instead of picking up small gaps in it. We are open to suggestions”. 

Expecting general public to become part of the clean air efforts of the government, the minister appealed them to stop burning bio-mass (waste), observe lane driving and keep their vehicles fit to reduce emissions. 

“I would like to assure everyone that we are committed to clean the city’s air. We are making efforts. Difference can be noticed after some time”, said Javadekar.

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