With Delhi facing another tryst with the air pollution, several environmental experts believe that the problem goes beyond the national capital and that the country needs to ramp up the number of air quality pollution monitoring stations to quantify the problem and prioritize the areas which require immediate attention.
As per the data of the Central Pollution Control Board, there are 793 operating stations in 344 cities and towns.
Currently, the country has only 230 continuous monitors. Most of these stations, residential or industrial, are located in urban areas, and the coverage in the rural areas is sparse. This is relevant since residential combustion emissions, associated with solid fuel use, are a key source of air pollution.
Sarath Guttikunda, Director of Urban Emissions (India), an independent research group on air pollution, told IANS that the air pollution monitoring stations are still limited in India and out of the 230 continuous monitors, 75 are in and around Delhi and most of the cities have 1-2 stations, which is not a representative sample.
"We have an understanding from the models and some monitoring that air pollution is a problem in both urban and rural areas. True sense of the scale of the air pollution problem will be visible only if we monitor air quality properly at the extent that the data represents the problem spatially and temporally," he added.
There is a substantial gap in the availability of data on air pollution due to the lack of real-time air quality monitoring stations in many cities. Many locations have manual air quality monitoring stations which take days to show the result and are also subject to human errors.
As per the Urban Emissions, the country needs 4,000 continuous monitoring stations -- 2,800 in the urban areas and 1,200 in the rural areas of the districts based on thumb rule proposed by CPCB in a bid to spatially, temporally, and statistically represent the pollution in the urban and the rural areas.
According to Hemant Kaushal, Project Coordinator at IIT Delhi's Centre of Excellence for Research on Clear Air, China has 4,000-5,000 pollution monitoring stations and considering the population, India must increase the numbers of such stations.
"Even though the government is putting efforts to increase them, the instruments are quite costly and cost a couple of crore. The procurement process is also slow and bureaucratic. Although they have started the process of procuring, the process itself is so long and it takes a lot of time to get the machines," he said.
Kaushal added, "India needs to increase the number of monitoring stations in the non-attainment cities. Rural areas are untouched and have a lot of pollution. Stock burning starts from the rural areas only. The people in those areas are badly affected by it."
Giving a plausible solution, Kaushal stated that apart from the regulatory grade equipment the country must increase awareness amongst the people through low-cost sensors to fill the gap as high-cost instruments cannot be placed everywhere.
Calling it a national crisis, Sunil Dahiya, Analyst at Centre of Excellence for Research on Clear Air said that Delhi has enough monitoring stations for authorities to take actions, but it is also important to focus on regions beyond Delhi. "It is very important for more monitoring to be done and data to be made available in the public domain so that other regions can move towards cleaner air."
He said that till the time the monitoring stations are installed across the country, data collected by the CPCB from the ambient air quality monitoring station and continuous emission monitoring station of the industries across the country should be put out in public domain.
Hindrances to stationing of these pollution monitoring stations are, however, multi-fold. There is a need for finances to set up the infrastructure as on an average a continuous monitoring system costs upwards of Rs 1.5 crores, plus operation and maintenance costs.
Another limitation is that the Central Pollution Control Board does not have adequate staff to manage and maintain the units across that they would put in place, said Barun Aggarwal, CEO of BreatheEasy. "Cost of the stations is of course a hindrance, but the cost of not doing something in terms of the health of the people of our country is much more."