In the midst of elections, environmentalists have flagged concerns over "patchy recognition of the problem of unhealthy air" by MPs over the past five years, particularly those representing the cities and towns that figure in WHOs list of most polluted cities.
The environmentalists say elected representatives must take "proactive steps" to address such issues.
However, environmentalists also saw a silver lining in the major political parties mentioning air pollution in their manifestos and lauded the centre for at least formulating the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP).
A recent report - Political Leaders' Position and Action on Air Quality 2014-19 - complied by Climate Trends, a communications strategy initiative, showed that MPs were not proactive in addressing air quality issues in their respective constituencies.
"Our analysis of the 14 most polluted cities of the world, all of which are in north India, clearly shows there is patchy recognition of the problem of unhealthy air. It clearly shows that none of the MPs in the last five years were able to realise the importance of air quality in their constituencies so as to take comprehensive measures which will address the problem," Climate Trends' Director Aarti Khosla told IANS.
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According to green activists, measures for low carbon and infrastructural development have been taken based on a "piecemeal approach" without addressing the betterment of air quality and that is why in the last four-five years this "has actually deteriorated".
"There is a lack of coordinated and individual response of MPs with respect to air quality and even understanding that air pollution problem is causing a public health crisis," Khosla pointed out.
"A new global report on air pollution by the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that 14 cities with the highest levels of PM 2.5 pollutants in 2016 were in India. These 14 towns and cities cover a broad swathe of northern India stretching west to east. Effectively then, the new WHO report identifies the Indo-Gangetic Plain, along with Rajasthan and the Kashmir Valley, as having the worst air in the world," the report said.
While Delhi, Agra and Kanpur are known to have very high levels of air pollution, places like Varanasi, Muzaffarpur, Gaya, and Srinagar - all on the list of the most-polluted - do not have a high concentration of polluting industries, or other common sources of pollution, such as vehicular emissions, it said.
Inadequate monitoring and insufficient data on poor air quality are primary reasons for limited understanding of the problem, the report said.
IIT-Kanpur Professor Sachchidanand Tripathi said the Central government in the last 2-3 years has probably "taken cognisance of the problem which was recognised as an NCR-centric problem, but it actually covers the Indo-Gangetic Plain running through 10 states. There are other regions in which air pollution issues are also increasing.
"Air pollution is a very complex problem. States have to join hands with the centre and need to bring their own plans and not necessarily rely on the centre's resources. Cities too have to work upon their own plans.
"We need collective action against the problem and more coordination is required between the centre, state and city governments, as also between the cities. Members of parliament have an important role to play in it," Tripathi told IANS.
Parliamentarians are not responsible for executing and enforcing policies for a particular city, but they are "important link" in terms of accelerating whatever coordination is required at the level of the state or region or cities, activists said.
Naba Datta, General Secretary, Sabuj Mancha - a network of organisations and individuals fighting for the green cause - questioned the political will of the parties to expedite the issues of environment in parliament.
"For example, Trinamool Congress MP Sandhya Roy (a Bengali film actress), was made a member of Standing Committee Environment & Forests. Has she asked any questions on the environment? This is the attitude of a political party.
"In West Bengal, for instance, there are 14 MPs representing different cities and places where many environmental problems, including air pollution, exist. Have they raised their voices in parliament? They are not proactive," Datta told IANS.
However, greens felt it is a step in the right direction that party manifestos are prioritising air pollution.
"While the Congress manifesto talked about sectoral targets to tackle air pollution, the BJP's manifesto talks about converting the NCAP into a mission. Air pollution will have to be dealt with at the local, regional and national levels. It needs top-level buy-in and we hope BJP's mission will accord air pollution that status," Khosla said.
(Bappaditya Chatterjee can be contacted at email@example.com)
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