India launches new air quality index in the world’s most polluted capital

By Bhuvan Bagga, AFP

NEW DELHI — India’s prime minister suggested Monday the country’s ��age-old traditions�� could be used to ease its choking smog, as he launched a new air quality index for the world’s most polluted capital. Narendra Modi proposed making every Sunday ��bicycle day�� and switching off street lights during a full moon, amid growing public concern over the impact of air pollution on the health of India’s 1.2 billion people. ��There can be green solutions in our age-old traditions,�� he said in a speech at a conference of environmental policymakers in the capital New Delhi. ��What if our city governments … decided not to switch on the street lights during a full moon?�� he said. ��It is only a small thing, but you can imagine how much energy could be saved and emissions could be cut if all the street lights were switched off during a full moon.�� The government said the new index would initially cover 10 cities �X Delhi, Agra, Kanpur, Lucknow, Varanasi, Faridabad, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad �X each of which would have monitoring stations with Air Quality Index display boards. The government is under intense pressure to act after the World Health Organization last year declared New Delhi the world’s most polluted capital. At least 3,000 people die prematurely every year in the city because of air pollution, according to a joint study by Boston-based Health Effects Institute and Delhi’s Energy Resources Institute. Modi also signalled that India would not bow to foreign pressure on tackling climate change, ahead of U.N.-led talks late this year in Paris on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said the new index could drive efforts to ease air pollution.