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India launches air quality index for major cities

The Indian government is rolling out a national air quality index in 10 of its biggest cities. Indian cities are among those with the worst air quality in the world.

The index is to be launched in 10 major cities, including Mumbai and New Delhi, with the aim of eventually covering 66 cities. The Indian capital is one of the worst cities globally for air pollution and may soon knock Beijing off the top spot.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the index at a conference of state environment ministers on Monday. He blamed changing lifestyles that have come with India's growing economic power for the rising pollution.

"Until we focus on our lifestyle and get the world to focus on it, we will not succeed despite all other measures being taken," Modi said in New Delhi. "It is difficult to convince the developed nations about this," he said, calling on Indians to set an example.

The Indian government gave little detail, however, on what it intends to do to improve air quality, except to say it would introduce new rules on disposing of construction waste.

Much of India's pollution comes from thousands of building sites, coal-fired power plants, domestic cooking with firewood or cow dung, diesel fuel and crop burning.

Last year, a report by scientists at Yale and Columbia universities in the US found that India and China both had very high levels of small airborne particles that could lead to lung cancer and other respiratory diseases. India ranks 155 of 178 countries in the report's Environmental Performance Index.

A World Health Organization (WHO) study of 1,600 cities released last year showed that New Delhi has the world's highest annual average concentration of small airborne particles known as PM2.5 - higher even than the Chinese capital Beijing. India disputes the figures but has admitted that pollution levels are comparable.

Air pollution kills over 620,000 people a year in India and millions across the world, according to the WHO.

ng/kms (AP, dpa, AFP)