New studies find Delhi more polluted than Beijing despite green measures such as the Metro and CNG. The main culprit in the undoing of the advantage, experts feel, is the addition of 1,000 vehicles daily
The advantage Delhi sought to gain from a series of environment-friendly measures, such as its Metro network and fleet of CNG buses and autos, has been lost with the levels of pollutants in the city having reached alarming levels, experts say. And the main cause for this, they feel, is the addition of more and more vehicles every day.
Recent studies have put Delhi more polluted even than Beijing, until now described widely as the world’s most polluted city. The annual study for the Environmental Performance Index conducted by the research centres at Yale and Columbia Universities ranked India last in terms of air pollution’s effects on human health. It study found that levels of PM 2.5, a key yardstick among several kinds of polluting matter, were almost five times the safety threshold for humans.
The findings, particularly the comparison with Beijing, have caused outrage among Indian officials who cite the different characteristics of the two cities. There is no debate over the fact, however, that Delhi’s pollution levels are indeed rising, while Beijing has brought its levels down.
The Centre for Science and Environment has compared data from the Delhi Pollution Control Board and the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau. In Beijing, PM 10 levels decreased about 40 per cent from 2000 to 2013; in Delhi this has increased about 47 per cent from 2000 to 2011. PM 2.5 (fine respirable particles) comprises particles not more than 2.5 micrometres in diameter and which are smaller than PM 10 (coarse particles).
The CSE has found that Beijing’s daily PM 2.5 levels for 2013 never exceeded 400 micrograms per cubic metre and averaged around 250. In Delhi, PM 10 and PM 2.5 levels rose 50 per cent in December and January. At 10 am on December 16, the monitoring station at R K Puram recorded 985, DPCB officials concede. The standard set by the Indian government is 60.
Said Dr Madhavan Nair Rajeevan, adviser to the Ministry of Earth Sciences, “Experts are clearly puzzled that Delhi Pollution Control Board data from one station (Punjabi Bagh) showed the PM 2.5 level at 500 micrograms per cubic metre continuously for seven days in the first week of January. This value is extremely