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We have been barking up the wrong tree on air pollution

On its 46th foundation day, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) released two reports that should force us to re-examine our approach towards controlling air pollution.


The first report is the ‘National Ambient Air Quality Status & Trends 2019’, which contains air quality data for 344 cities/ towns from 28 states and 6 UTs. This is the only report that gives a snapshot of the status of air pollution in the country.


The second is a report on the ‘Impact of the Lockdown on Ambient Air Quality’. This report compares data for 12 cities from different parts of the country, including Delhi and NCR towns, during the lockdown phases with the corresponding periods in 2019. The report also estimates the various sources on air pollution in Delhi by chemically analysing PM2.5 (particles less than 2.5 microns in size or fine particles) in different phases of lockdown. Furthermore, it measured PM2.5 concentrations using satellite to estimate the air quality improvement over the entire country.


Read in isolation, these two reports do not give us much new information than which is known or expected. For instance, it is known that air quality is a pan-India problem. Similarly, we all experienced cleaner air during lockdowns, and therefore, a dip in the ambient air quality levels was expected. But once we put these two reports together, a completely new picture emerges that puts a question mark on our approach so far in controlling air pollution and the way National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) is being implemented. Here are the major findings of these two reports:


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