Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar on Friday said it took China’s capital Beijing 15 years to improve its air quality, but New Delhi will be faster. This came a day after the minister spoke on the matter in the Rajya Sabha and said that India’s green cover had increased in the last five years.

“It took Beijing 15 years [to fight air pollution]. We will take lesser time,” he said in the Lower House while responding to discussions on the topic of air pollution and climate change.

The minister claimed there was a difference between climate change and air pollution as the former had long-term effects and pollutants had a short-term impact. Javadekar said that India had decided to become a part of the solution for climate change.

The environment minister appealed to the public to plant at least seven trees to create an “oxygen bank”, adding that people should use electric vehicles, engage in plogging – picking up litter while jogging – and cycling. “I called street workers and people who clean up our roads to discuss and celebrate Diwali with them,” he said. “They have told me that in comparison with the previous years, only 20-30% firecrackers were burst this year.”

After BJP MPs Maneka Gandhi and Kapil Patil raised the matter of plastic pollution during the Question Hour in the Lower House, Javadekar said public awareness was required to curb the problem. “Ragpickers do not pick up small packets of gutka and tobacco because they have to frequently bend to pick these small plastic waste,” he said.

Guidelines on single-use plastics had already been issued, the Union minister said. The demand for plastics had increased majorly due to its use in the fast-moving consumer goods sector, which indirectly affected plastic waste management, Javadekar added.

“Due to its durability, strength, inert behaviour and low cost, plastic emerged as one of the most reliable packaging material for the industries,” he said. The minister said developing green alternatives to plastic had become a “challenging task”.

At 5 pm on Friday, the overall air quality index was recorded at 362 in the “very poor” category, according to the Central Pollution Control Board. The real-time air quality index was recorded at 339, according to SAFAR. The CPCB index typically differs from that of SAFAR because it averages values for 24 hours.

Out of all the CPCB monitoring stations in Delhi, which recorded air pollution levels between “very poor” and “severe” at 6 pm, the one at Bawana in the north-western part of the national Capital was the worst at 415 in the “severe” category. This was followed by Anand Vihar that recorded 412 in the air quality index, 405 in the Mundka area, and 389 in the Ashok Vihar locality of the city.

An AQI between 0 and 50 is considered “good”, 51-100 falls under “satisfactory” zone, 101-200 is “moderate”, 201-300 “poor”, 301-400 “very poor” and 401-500 is “severe” category.

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