India's latest pollution plan won't clear the air

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India's Latest Pollution Plan Won't Clear the Air

Air pollution contributed to 620,000 deaths in India in 2010.

Last year, the World Health Organization ranked New Delhi as the most polluted city in the world.

Part of the problem may lie in the government's response, or lack thereof.

On Monday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the creation of a national air-quality index to monitor pollution in 10 cities.

Which sounds like progress. But in the announcement, Modi also denied India was one of the world's leading polluters and pointed to the country's low per-capita carbon emissions as proof.

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India's latest pollution plan won't clear the air
A Indian policewoman wearing a mask to protect herself from exhaust gas directs traffic at a busy intersection in Bangalore, India, Monday, April 6, 2015. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, April 6, 2015, blamed the changing lifestyles that have come with India's economic development for rising pollution levels that have given the country some of the world's dirtiest air. With his government rolling out a new Air Quality Index to 10 of the nation's cities, Modi urged Indians to curtail waste and conserve resources even as they become wealthier, in order to prevent an environmental catastrophe. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) receives a sapling from Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar during the inauguration of the Enviornment and Forest Minsters conference in New Delhi on April 6, 2015. India's government launched a new air quality index on April 6, 2015, under intense pressure to act after the World Health Organisation declared New Delhi the world's most polluted capital. Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said the government would publish air quality data for 10 cities, amid growing public concern over the impact of air pollution on the health of India's 1.2 billion people. AFP PHOTO/ PRAKASH SINGH (Photo credit should read PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)
Traffic moves at dusk in Mumbai, India, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015. India's filthy air is cutting 660 million lives short by about three years, according to research published Saturday that underlines the hidden costs of the country's heavy reliance on fossil fuels to power its economic growth with little regard for the environment. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)
FILE – In this Monday, Jan 26, 2015 file photo, a local train moves past burning garbage at a local train station in Mumbai, India. India’s filthy air is cutting 660 million lives short by about three years, while nearly all of the country’s 1.2 billion citizens are breathing in harmful pollution levels, according to research published Saturday, Feb. 21, 2014. While New Delhi last year earned the dubious title of being the world’s most polluted city, the problem extends nationwide, with 13 Indian cities now on the World Health Organization’s list of the 20 most polluted. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool, File)
India's Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar, left, presents a copy of the latest Tiger census report to Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a conference by The Environment Ministry in New Delhi, India, Monday, April 6, 2015. Modi launched Monday National Air Quality Index for 10 cities in India during the national conference. Experts say India's index falls short of international standards by using a formula that downplays how dangerous the air quality is on any given day. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)
An Indian worker pushes a cart filled with soil for making bricks at a brick kiln on the outskirts of Gauhati, India, Monday, Jan. 26, 2015. The White House is hoping that the surprise deal with China late last year setting ambitious targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions will influence India and others. Heavy reliance on fossil fuels has transformed New Delhi into the planet's most polluted capital and made India the third biggest national emitter of greenhouse gases. (AP Photo/ Anupam Nath)
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi rubs his eye as he attends a conference by The Environment Ministry in New Delhi, India, Monday, April 6, 2015. Modi launched Monday National Air Quality Index for 10 cities in India during the national conference. Experts say India's index falls short of international standards by using a formula that downplays how dangerous the air quality is on any given day. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)
An Indian woman covers her face to avoid fumes emitting from passing vehicles as she crosses a busy street in Kolkata, India, Monday, April 6, 2015. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday blamed the changing lifestyles that have come with India's economic development for rising pollution levels that have given the country some of the world's dirtiest air. (AP Photo/ Bikas Das)
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during a conference by The Environment Ministry in New Delhi, India, Monday, April 6, 2015. Modi launched Monday National Air Quality Index for 10 cities in India during the national conference. Experts say India's index falls short of international standards by using a formula that downplays how dangerous the air quality is on any given day. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)
An Indian security guard, wearing a mask to protect himself from exhaust gas, stands at the gate of an apparel company in Bangalore, India, Monday, April 6, 2015. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, April 6, 2015, blamed the changing lifestyles that have come with India's economic development for rising pollution levels that have given the country some of the world's dirtiest air. With his government rolling out a new Air Quality Index to 10 of the nation's cities, Modi urged Indians to curtail waste and conserve resources even as they become wealthier, in order to prevent an environmental catastrophe. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi releases a report during the inauguration of the Enviornment and Forest Minsters conference in New Delhi on April 6, 2015. India's government launched a new air quality index on April 6, 2015, under intense pressure to act after the World Health Organisation declared New Delhi the world's most polluted capital. Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said the government would publish air quality data for 10 cities, amid growing public concern over the impact of air pollution on the health of India's 1.2 billion people. AFP PHOTO/ PRAKASH SINGH (Photo credit should read PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)
Scavengers crowd around a fresh load of garbage dumped by a collection truck on the outskirts of Gauhati, India, Monday, Jan. 26, 2015. The White House is hoping that the surprise deal with China late last year setting ambitious targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions will influence India and others. Heavy reliance on fossil fuels has transformed New Delhi into the planet's most polluted capital and made India the third biggest national emitter of greenhouse gases. (AP Photo/ Anupam Nath)
In this Wednesday, March 11, 2015 photo, a woman carries a crateful of bananas and walks in Dharavi, one of the world’s largest slums, by a polluted canal in Mumbai, India. The canal meets with the Mithi River which later opens up to the Arabian Sea after travelling a distance of 15 kilometers, with people living along this stretch treating it like a dumping ground for sewage, industrial waste and garbage. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
Indians look for recyclable material at a garbage dumping site on the outskirts of Gauhati, India, Monday, Jan. 26, 2015. The White House is hoping that the surprise deal with China late last year setting ambitious targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions will influence India and others. Heavy reliance on fossil fuels has transformed New Delhi into the planet's most polluted capital and made India the third biggest national emitter of greenhouse gases. (AP Photo/ Anupam Nath)
An Indian boy carries recyclable materials past greater adjutant storks at a garbage dumping site on the outskirts of Gauhati, India, Monday, Jan. 26, 2015. The White House is hoping that the surprise deal with China late last year setting ambitious targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions will influence India and others. Heavy reliance on fossil fuels has transformed New Delhi into the planet's most polluted capital and made India the third biggest national emitter of greenhouse gases. (AP Photo/ Anupam Nath)
FILE - In this Jan. 26, 2015 file photo, smoke rises from a brick kiln on the outskirts of Gauhati, India. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, April 6, 2015 blamed the changing lifestyles that have come with India's economic development for rising pollution levels that have given the country some of the world's dirtiest air. With his government rolling out a new Air Quality Index to 10 of the nation's cities, Modi urged Indians to curtail waste and conserve resources even as they become wealthier, in order to prevent an environmental catastrophe. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath, File)
In this Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015 photo, traffic moves at dusk in New Delhi, India. When U.S. President Barack Obama visits New Delhi from Sunday, he will join the Indian capital's masses in breathing some of the world's filthiest air. Hazy skies will serve as the backdrop to meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other officials who are expected to discuss India's biggest environmental woes: Heavy reliance on fossil fuels that has transformed New Delhi into the planet's most polluted capital and made India the third biggest national emitter of greenhouse gases. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
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That's despite the fact that The World Bank ranked India as the third biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in 2010, contributing more than 2 billion tons.

Denying India's a leading polluter is par for the course when it comes to Modi's government. Officials also rejected that WHO report saying Delhi was the most polluted city in the world.

And critics have called government action to combat pollution so far as ineffectual.

For example, last year the government's National Green Tribunal banned cars 15 years or older from Delhi, something activists say missed the heart of the problem.

"Average age of personal vehicles in Delhi is about 4 to 7 years ... So even if you get rid of them, I don't see that that's going to have a massive impact on air quality," Anumita Roychowdhury told Al Jazeera.

Cars are one of the leading contributors to air pollution in Delhi, and as the country prospers economically, the number of people driving them goes up.

"Since I moved to Delhi, my breathing problem has gotten worse. I find it difficult to move around. The air is really filthy, and my asthma has aggravated and I feel worse," one man told the Financial Times.

But the problems posed by increasing development go beyond exhaust emissions: Construction work contributes to emissions and industrial development has led to deforestation.

Mongabay estimates India has lost some 10.7 million acres of forest over the past 20 years, and when you consider that one acre of forest can sequester thousands of pounds of carbon, that's a big loss.

Nevertheless, Indian broadcaster IBN reports there's no plan to take action, regardless of what the new air quality index says. Instead, in his address Monday, Modi asked Indians to forgo using electric devices once a week.

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