Come November, air pollution often touches critical levels across the northern Indian plains, especially in Delhi. This prompts constant media attention, for a few months, on how Delhi’s air is being affected with reports flashing out Delhi’s air quality index (AQI) every day.
While ‘AQI’ has become a part of our lingo, few of us know the history of how air quality is measured in India.
What is AQI?
AQI is the index for measuring daily air quality and countries across the world use different indices to measure it. India and the United States follow the same standards for calculating AQI. An AQI measurement between 0-5 is considered ‘Good’, 51–100 is considered ‘Satisfactory’, 101–200 is considered ‘Moderately Polluted’, ‘201–300’ is considered ‘Poor’, 301–400 is ‘Very Poor’ and ‘401-500’ is categorised as ‘Severe’.
When did we begin measuring air pollution in India?
While the World Health Organisation has been publishing reports on air pollution as early as 1957, the first such monitoring began in India almost a decade later in 1967.
According to a report in Down to Earth, the first scientific and regular monitoring of air quality was started only in 1967 by the National Environment Engineering Research Institute based in Nagpur. It set up three stations each in 10 major Indian cities - one each in prominent industrial, residential and commercial areas to measure the air quality.
At the time, the report said, rate of sulphur production, oxides of nitrogen and suspended particulate matter were among the parameters that were monitored and measured.
SAFAR set up in 2015
While Delhi has faced bad air quality for years, the Ministry of Earth Sciences set up the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR) for monitoring air quality. This was to measure air quality in Delhi, Pune, Ahmedabad and Mumbai. It was implemented in Delhi in 2010 and later implemented in Pune in 2013, Mumbai in 2015 and Ahmedabad in 2017, says a report in The Indian Express.
The SAFAR system was developed by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology with the India Meteorological Department and the National Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting. It works with the help of several government agencies and municipal corporations in each city.
National Air Quality Index set up in 2014
The Government of India decided to set up the National Air Quality Index in 2014 under the Swachh Bharat Mission, a pet project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The system was officially launched by the prime minister in 2015 during a two-day conference by the Environment and Forest Minister. While it was first launched for Delhi, Agra, Kanpur, Lucknow, Varanasi, Faridabad, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad, it now measures AQI for cities across states of the country. It gives citizens a colour-coded measure of eight pollutants like PM10, PM2.5, NO2, SO2, CO, O3, NH3 and Pb.
It was set up as a measure to aggressively push to improve air quality across the nation, especially the National Capital Region.