To bolster measurement of air pollution in rural India, the Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur, is embarking on a $2.5 million project (₹19 crore) to install nearly 1,400 sensors in rural blocks of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The three-year pilot project is expected to pave the way for a national network of air quality sensors in rural India.
“The outcomes from this network will help local communities, policy makers and researchers understand the ground situation. Data from this network will also be made available in real-time to enable actionable and evidence-based decision-making,” said Sachidanand Tripathi, project leader and Professor at IIT-K.
Air pollution in India is largely framed as an urban blight though causes of pollution, such as biomass burning, and reliance on diesel gensets for electricity are worsening air quality in villages too.
In 2019, the government launched the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) to achieve 20-30% reduction in particulate matter (PM) air pollution by 2024 with 2017 as the base year for comparison. This however is primarily aimed at 122 cities that have been categorised as India’s most polluted cities.
At its launch, government officials had committed to increasing the network of rural air pollution monitoring sensors, but little has progressed on that front. Despite having several cities in the world’s list of the most polluted cities in the world, India still has very few sensors relative to the size of its population due to which the enormity of the air pollution crisis is obscured in towns and villages.
Cities, because of their population density and industrial establishments, continue to be the overwhelming source of emissions.
The country’s current annual safe limits for PM 2.5 and PM 10 are 40 micrograms/per cubic metre (ug/m3) and 60 micrograms/per cubic metre.
Under NCAP, ₹375.44 crore was provided to 114 cities from 2018-19 to 2020-21 and ₹290 crore was allocated to 82 cities for the financial year 2021-2022. The programme has an allocation of ₹700 crore envisaged for 2021-26. However interim analysis by independent bodies have found that there’s been minimal reduction so far in PM trends under NCAP and that pollution-reduction targets remain elusive.
NCAP-funded cities use a considerable fraction of their funds to improve their network of air sensors and these, primarily because they are imported, are expensive to procure and install. However, Tripathi said the rural network project would rely on “low-cost sensors” that are already being tested in cities.