choking cities

Not just Delhi: These six Indian cities have an air pollution problem worse than Beijing

Many northern cities including Agra, Patna and Lucknow continue to show alarmingly high air-pollutant levels.

Each year, almost six lakh Indias die prematurely due to air pollution, which is the fifth leading cause of death in the country. Of these, almost 35,000 deaths occur in the national capital. Even as Delhi government has sprung into action on January 1 to improve the air quality by regulating the number of cars of the streets, other Indian cities are breathing equally foul air, government data shows.

The National Air Quality Index network was announced last year by the government as an official reporting standard for air pollution levels that would allow for comparisons across cities. The data from government’s monitors in cities such as Patna, Raipur, Agra and Varanasi reveals that pollution levels are off the charts in many cities and that in the absence of strong measures, the problem isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.

“Even the government’s own, largely inadequate NAQI data reveals that 23 of the 32 stations across India are showing more than 70% exceedance of the national standards,” said Sunil Dahiya, Campaigner,Greenpeace India. “The pollution levels in a few Indian cities have the embarrassing distinction of having exceeded the toxic levels of Beijing and other Chinese cities, demonstrating levels at least ten times higher than the WHO standards, making air pollution truly a national emergency.”

Source: Greenpeace India.
Source: Greenpeace India.

Greenpeace India analysed the data provided by the NAQI portal and concluded that control strategies needs to move beyond just Delhi because air pollution seems to be a regional problem rather than just local one. The organisation said that steps are needed at national level to reduce the levels of particulate matter PM2.5 and PM10.

While Delhi was found to have pollution levels 12 times higher than World Health Organisation guidelines, another six cities – Lucknow, Faridabad, Ahmedabad, Kanpur, Agra and Varanasi – had pollution levels at least ten times as higher than permissible under these standards.

For instance, on November 29 last year, Patna’s air had 108 micrograms of PM 2.5 per cubic meter as compared to Delhi’s 78 micrograms per cubic meter. Beijing, meanwhile, had 81 micrograms of PM 2.5 per cubic meter of air.

Greenpeace also compared the levels of pollution in Indian cities to Beijing’s red-alert standard and estimated how many days the cities would be shut if they were following China’s standards of issuing alerts in times of severe air pollution. It turned out that in a 91-day period between September and November, Delhi met the Chinese criteria for 33 days while Lucknow met it for 40 days.

Source: Greenpeace India
Source: Greenpeace India

“The Government’s own data suggests that the air quality in several north Indian cities is worse than the air in Beijing, and yet we remain tentative in recognising this ‘airpocalypse’ as a pollution disaster,” Dahiya said in a press statement.

Shot in the dark

In 2014, the World Health Organisation released a list of world’s 20 most polluted cities, 13 of which were in India. Earlier, the Global Burden of Disease report had estimated air pollution to be the fifth deadliest killer in the country.

“Indian cities are witnessing a rapid increase in air pollution and untamed motorisation,” wrote Anumita Roychowdhury, head of the clean air programme at the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi. “Indian cities are witnessing a rapid increase in air pollution and untamed motorisation. Cities need to curb pollution from all sources, but vehicles need special attention as they emit toxic fumes within our breathing zone.”

Even as Indian cities remain exposed to critically high levels of toxic substances in their air, the absence of comprehensive data collection makes things worse.

“The data collection is not standardised. They are not necessarily measuring the same parameters,” said Bhargav Krishna from Public Health Foundation of India. “For instance, many of the CPCB [Central Pollution Control Board] and other monitors don’t measure PM 2.5 at all and even the measurement of PM 2.5 across different monitors is taken at different points of time. So you can't really do a retrospective analysis on these levels because they weren't measured at all."

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.