Launch of air quality index in India has implications for businesses

Mumbai // India has launched its first national air quality index, which could eventually put pressure on businesses to reduce their carbon footprints.

The government is rolling out the index for 10 cities, including New Delhi and Mumbai, as the country grapples with the growing problem of pollution.

New Delhi has been rated as the world’s most polluted city and 13 of the world’s dirtiest 20 cities are in India, according to the World Health Organization,

Kamal Sen, the president and chief executive of the consultancy Cogitaas, said that there could be eventual implications for businesses in terms of their carbon emissions.

“It needs to be followed through with efficient carbon footprint measurements and transparent trading of carbon rights for businesses,” he said. “Otherwise the air quality index will remain just one more metric to be reported at large.”

As it stands, the index is simply a measure of pollution levels and no specific plans have been outlined about any action that would be taken in response to the findings of the index. The government has said it will introduce new rules for the disposal of construction waste in India.

There are likely to be severe limitations to the index, specialists pointed out.

“There is generally a limit to the number of routine observation sites that can be established owing to the high cost of the equipment required,” said Satish Modh, the director of Vivekanand Education Society Institute of Management Studies and Research. “A sparse set of observations at a few place-time coordinates may not necessarily give an accurate picture of the extent and severity of air pollution throughout the city. Therefore, routine monitoring has to be supplemented by spot surveys and short-term studies to characterise a particular problem.”

Narendra Modi, the country’s prime minister, speaking at a conference of state environment and forest ministers being held in New Delhi, yesterday said that India “should lead the global fight against climate change”.

India has come under pressure to cut its carbon emissions after the United States and China pledged in November to start cutting their emissions. Mr Modi has not signalled that he will make any such formal commitment to cutting emissions. Yesterday he did, however, outline plans to tackle climate change.

The prime minister called for easing of restrictions on uranium imports to allow India to produce more nuclear energy. He said that India was focusing on clean energy generation through solar, wind and biomass.

“The way forward is not just restrictions, but changing lifestyles,” Mr Modi said, adding that India should not be “forced to follow parameters laid down by others” but should instead be leading the way in its efforts to combat climate change.

Rapid urbanisation and an increase in the number of vehicles are among the factors that are leading to rising pollution levels in India.

Rajendra Patankar, the chief operating officer of Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai, said he hoped that the index could lead to changes being made by industries and individuals.

“The best part of introducing air quality index is that it can ring alarm bells in our ears every day about the horrible health hazards shrouding us,” he said.

“After launching the index, now the government should plan a campaign, involving all the stakeholders, to ensure some gains on the ground. I hope it can work as a trigger for a change to the way we have ignored air pollution.”

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