Kolkata: Four days after the air quality index monitor at the US consulate in Kolkata signalled that the PM 2.5 count in the Park Street area was the worst in the world, the city's mayor held a press conference today to rebuke the US consulate and a section of the media for "wrong, motivated reportage".
"Kolkata's air is the safest in the country for breathing," Kolkata Mayor Sovan Chatterjee said.
"We are not saying there is no (air) pollution but the way it is being projected is not right. If you say Kolkata is the most polluted city in the world, it is not like that," he said.
The chief of the state pollution control board, Dr Kalyan Rudra, was also present at the press meet but he did not make a remark in this regard.
Later, when he was asked if he would advise Kolkatans to wear pollution masks, he avoided a direct reply, and said, "During the three winter months of the year, Kolkata fails to comply with PM2.5 levels. So we suggest don't go for morning walks. Go in the evenings instead."
The mayor also hinted at a motive behind the timing of the press reports about high levels of PM2.5 in the air in Kolkata air.
The US consulate monitor on Tuesday reported PM2.5 level at 565 at 5 AM. However, the state's own monitor closest to the consulate put out a daylong average of 361 PM2.5, which the state's board itself categorises as very poor.
The national media reported about US consulate monitor report on Wednesday, the second day of the two-day Bengal Global Business Summit, hosted by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and attended by key industrialists from India and across the world.
In a veiled remark, Mr Chatterjee said the negative reports were aimed at embarrassing the state government at the summit. "We have written to the US consulate saying your figures are not about the entire city. Your figures fluctuate and you are causing 'bibhranti'(chaos) among the people," he told reporters here.
"Delhi's air quality is much worse than Kolkata but in Delhi the US Embassy is at chanakyapuri, which has many trees and is very green, so their figure for Delhi is good but in Kolkata, the US consulate is on Ho Chi Minh Sarani, which is just 200 metres from Jawaharlal Nehru Road, which is one the busiest areas in Kolkata," he said and suggested the reading was inaccurate.
According to the figures shared by the mayor, on January 15, PM2.5 level in Delhi was 159, while in Kolkata, the PM2.5 level was 166, as per WBPCB and 248 as per US Consulate. (USC). On January 14, Delhi PM2.5 level was recorded at 143, while in Kolkata, it was 142 and USC said it 338. On January 13, Delhi PM 2.5 level was at 194, Kolkata PM 2.5 level was at 168 and USC said it was 312.
The mayor termed the variation in the PCB and the US consulate figures was odd.
He had told NDTV on Thursday that the figures were "unscientific" and "inaccurate." However, there was no clarity on the time of the US consulate reading or that of Pollution Control Board.
The PCB figure is most likely a 24-hour average as the measure is taken by a manual monitor and not by an electronic or automatic monitor like the consulate monitor, which updates every hour.
According to Mr Chatterjee, there are 17 monitors in Kolkata. Out of them, only two are automatic but they are not functioning since October. The other 15 are manual monitors and readings are available 48 hours later.