India's Air Quality Monitoring Network in Woeful State, Says Report
Image Courtesy: PTI
Patna/New Delhi: Contrary to government claims of having good air quality monitoring systems, the ground reality reveals that the condition of the country's air quality monitoring network is abysmal. This revelation comes from the latest nationwide analysis conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a non-profit organisation based in New Delhi.
According to the CSE report, out of India's 4,041 census cities and towns, a mere 12% have air quality monitoring systems. Furthermore, only 200 of these cities monitor all six key criteria pollutants. This is a cause for concern as compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and clean air targets under the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) necessitate a robust air quality monitoring system.
The CSE analysis highlights that nearly 47% of the country's population is outside the maximum radius of the air quality monitoring grid (including manual and real-time monitoring combined), while 62% is outside the coverage of the real-time monitoring network.
Limited air quality monitoring poses challenges in identifying the non-attainment status of a significant number of towns, cities, and regions, hindering the evaluation of clean air action and improvement in air quality. This issue is especially pertinent for assessing the performance of the clean air action under the 15th Finance Commission grant," stated Anumita Roychowdhury, Executive Director of Research and Advocacy at CSE.
Avikal Somvanshi, Senior Programme Manager at CSE's Urban Lab, added that the current monitoring network also faces challenges in terms of inadequate data generation, incomplete data, and poor quality control of monitoring. These issues make it challenging to assess air quality trends and establish compliance with clean air targets. The current urban monitoring grid is heavily concentrated in a few major cities, leaving vast areas in other regions without monitoring. A more comprehensive approach is needed to cover a wider population and habitats to effectively implement clean air action plans, inform the public about daily risks, and design emergency response measures.
Other findings of the report include full population coverage of 100% only in Chandigarh, Delhi, and Goa. The national monitoring grid presently meets only 6-8% of the recommended requirement, and less than 200 cities monitor all six key pollutants.
Despite the poor air quality monitoring network, the number of manual monitoring stations has doubled since 2010, when there were 411 operating manual stations. Currently, there are 883 operating manual stations in 379 cities/towns across 28 states and seven Union territories, according to the Central Pollution Control Board's (CPCB) website.
Similarly, the number of real-time monitoring stations has increased 20-fold since 2010. There are 409 real-time Continuous Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Stations (CAAQMS) spread across 209 cities/towns in 27 states and four Union territories. In 2022, 77 stations were added, bringing the total to 423 stations in 221 cities as of February 22, 2023. However, the operational status of some stations is uncertain, as at least four stations have not reported any monitoring data in recent years, including Airoli in Navi Mumbai, Bandra in Mumbai, PWD Grounds in Vijayawada and Nishant Ganj in Lucknow.
CSE's assessment analysed the adequacy of the air quality monitoring network, spatial spread, population coverage, and data completeness throughout the country. The study encompassed 883 manual stations and 409 real-time stations, using publicly available data from the websites and publications of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) as of December 31, 2022.
According to the 2011 census, India has 4,041 statutory towns. The UN population database for 2020 indicates that 63 census towns have a population of over a million. These million-plus cities require 959 PM monitors, 643 SO2 monitors, 630 NO2 monitors, and 320 monitors for CO and surface ozone each, as per guidelines.
Air quality monitoring plays a crucial role in assessing the increasing risks and impacts of clean air action on air quality. It also serves as a vital tool for informing the public, especially vulnerable communities, about daily pollution levels, enabling emergency and long-term action, and supporting health impact studies. The CSE analysis recommends the following steps to strengthen the monitoring systems:
- Ensure a more equitable distribution of reference-grade regulatory air quality monitoring stations to provide wider population coverage, including areas without a monitoring network.
- Expand the monitoring network to include pollutants that pose higher public health risks, such as PM2.5 and ozone.
- Implement a framework for a hybrid air quality monitoring system that combines a network of regulatory monitors with air sensors and satellite-based monitoring based on proper standardisation, certification, calibration requirements, and detailed protocols.
- Ensure coverage of all communities, particularly vulnerable ones, to provide comprehensive air quality information.
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