IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Innovations for cleaner air

14th December, 2020 Editorial

Context: Monitoring air pollution alone isn’t enough; India needs context-specific solutions to tackle the problem

  • Over the past decade, India has made significant progress in monitoring air pollution.
  • There are more than 250 continuous ambient air quality monitoring stations and more than 800 ambient air quality monitoring stations operating across the country.
  • It is owing to these that we are able to understand the magnitude of the challenge of air pollution.
  • There has been a tremendous effort in improving awareness of citizens through campaigns around air pollution and its adverse impact on health and environment.
  • However, while these efforts need to amplify, it is equally important to have systemic changes at the policy and strategy levels.

Welcoming policy interventions

  • Public policy is already responding positively.
  • The budget allocation for air pollution increased substantially in 2020-21 from what it was in 2018-19 to ensure cleaner air in cities having populations above one million.
  • The establishment of the Commission for Air Quality Management with penal provisions against polluters in the NCR and adjoining areas is a welcome move.
  • India has jumped from BSIV to BSVI vehicles. There is an increased focus on e-mobility.
  • Through the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, there has been an effort to reduce indoor air pollution in rural areas by increasing LPG coverage.
  • While these measures will have a major impact in the long term, India needs innovations to deliver on the promise of cleaner air in the immediate future.
  • There are many institutions involved in developing solutions.
  • The Indian Agricultural Research Institute’s PUSA Bio Decomposer, which turns crop residue into manure in 15-20 days, could become a cost-effective alternative to tackle stubble burning.
  • UNDP is also promoting startup-led innovations such as a filter-less retrofit device for cutting particulate matter at source in industries and vehicles, and a nature-based solution to amplify air purification through breathing roots technology for improving indoor air quality.
  • Air pollution in India has numerous sources that are spread across vast geographies, which is a challenge for environmental regulators with limited capacity and manpower.
  • In such conditions, it is imperative to leverage advance digital technologies, such as geospatial technology and AI, to upgrade our capacities to identify, monitor, regulate and mitigate air pollution hotspots.
  • For instance, the GeoAI platform for brick kilns, developed by UNDP in partnership with the University of Nottingham, is supporting environment regulators to identify non-complaint brick kilns from space.
  • The platform has already mapped over 37,000 brick manufacturing units across the Indo-Gangetic plains.
  • Given the complexity and magnitude of air pollution, India needs context-specific innovations not only in the technological but also in the economic, social, legal, educational, political and institutional domains. It is important for it to develop a single window online platform for showcasing innovations with the potential to mitigate the challenges of air pollution.

What more should be done?

  • The need of the hour is provide an enabling ecosystem for innovations to address context-specific air pollution challenges.
  • There needs to be significant government support for enterprises to come up with scalable pollution abatement technologies.
  • Resources need to be allocated to support testing, certifying and scaling of innovative solutions and also to extend support for intellectual property rights protection.
  • It is equally important to mobilise private sector participation.
  • Businesses and enterprises need to innovate their operations and functioning, building in emission and pollution controls and reducing institutional carbon footprint to the lowest possible levels.
  • The private sector has strong potential to develop commercially viable products to combat air pollution and boost the innovation ecosystem.
  • Also, if one quantifies the impact of interventions that reduce air pollution with healthcare cost, disability-adjusted life years, or economic cost, it could lead to diversification of funding sources for that intervention.