Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh has the most toxic air quality in India, according to research, reported The Washington Post on Monday. In fact, two cities in UP--Varanasi and Allahabad--did not have a single day in 2015 where the air quality could be called good, according to research cited in the report.
Varanasi also happens to be Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Parliamentary constituency, which he won in a thumping majority during the 2014 general elections.
According to the research released by Centre for Environment and Energy Development (CEED), IndiaSpend and Care4Air, data from the Central Pollution Control Board's 2015 dataset shows that all of the 227 days last year when Varanasi's air quality was monitored, it had "zero" good air quality days. The number was same for Allahabad, where the air quality was recorded for 263 days last year.
"'Good' air indicates an Air Quality Index score below 50. Anything above 100 – 'moderate' – is considered to be dangerous for children, the elderly and people with respiratory conditions."
According to the report, heavy industrial activity across the Indo-Gangetic belt has led to rapid degradation of air quality across north Indian region.
The World Health Organisation lists 10 Indian cities among the top 20 most polluted cities of the world. Four of these are in Uttar Pradesh--Allahabad, Kanpur, Firozabad and Lucknow. Varanasi is not in this list, even though the CPCB bulletin lists it as among the worst three cities in 2015 for air quality.
According to Aishwarya Madineni, author of the report "Varanasi Chokes", there is an eight-fold rise in respiratory ailments in Varanasi because of the rising level of air pollution.
"Varanasi does not have a comprehensive action plan on air pollution. Immediate steps need to be taken to curb air pollution. And this action cannot be in isolation, cities and states need to work together to formulate a regional action plan to improve air quality," said Ekta Shekar from Care4Air.
R N Vajpayee, a pulmonologist and practicing chest physician in the Lanka area of Varanasi, said that there has been 20-25 per cent increase in cases of asthma and breathlessness.
"Government has to take responsibility for public health, issuing health advisories is an important task. Hopefully there will be awareness in the public soon which will result in government action," he said.
(with inputs from PTI)