As many as 55 crore Indians, including 4.7 crore children under five years, live with levels of PM 10 – particulate matter in the air that is smaller than 10 microns – higher than the national standard, a report by Greenpeace India showed on Monday. The national standard allows for PM 10 levels three times the international standard to be considered safe.

The more dangerous pollutant, PM 2.5, has increased steadily in India in the last decade, even as its level has been falling in China, the United States and the European Union, the report said. While the PM 2.5 level in China, the US and the EU fell between 15% and 20% since 2010, the same rose 13% in India.

The report, titled “Airpocalypse”, studied 280 Indian cities that monitor their air quality. Of these, 228 fall short of the annual permissible level of 60 micrograms per cubic metre for PM 10. None of them meets the international standards – the World Health Organization recommends 20 micrograms per cubic metre.

As many as 18 crore Indians live in areas with these levels more than twice the national standard, the report said.

“Delhi still remains the top-most polluted city, followed by many more towns like nearby Faridabad and Bhiwadi and far off Dehradun, Varanasi, and Patna,” said the report. It said the implementation of the graded response action plan for the National Capital Region was “disappointingly poor”. Moreover, while a long-term plan for the Capital is being discussed, the rest of the country has been left “virtually in the cold”.

The report also said most state pollution control boards “lack the capacity and understanding of how to even draft meaningful policies to curb air pollution”.

‘Robust monitoring needed’

Greenpeace India has said that an action plan must include the setting up of “robust monitoring” of air quality across the country, and that such data should be made available in real time. About 580 million Indians live in places with no such monitoring, the report said.

“Measures like shutting down schools, reduction of traffic, shutting down power plants and industries should automatically come into force as soon as air quality deteriorates beyond a level and takes alarming proportions,” the report said.

The non-profit also suggested the use of pollution reduction strategies such as improving public transport and enforcing stricter emission norms. Along with government action, public participation is critical too, the report said.