Pinning Down Pollution

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Pollution, one of India’s major development challenges which can be easily experienced, is hard to quantify. Yet, quantification of pollution is essential for building a case for action, for targeting responses, and for ensuring pollution abatement. Data are required to understand the context and impacts of the range and effects of pollution problems and to build pressure on government to act. The reality though is that complaints about pollution and its impact have grown steadily from all quarters over the past decade. Although India’s levels of waste and emissions have naturally increased alongside its growing economy, the country’s environmental monitoring programme - which tracks the quantum of pollution in the environment - has lagged conspicuously behind. Without effective monitoring, comprehensive data cannot be generated and cannot be relied upon to take informed action on pollution in the environment. In addition, data in India are difficult to access, or of extremely poor quality.

To begin with, in India, there is very little real-time monitoring and very few mechanisms to meaningfully share pollution monitoring information. The government-generated data is currently stored in the ‘Environmental Data Bank’(EDB) with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). Through a query-based interface, data can be accessed from the EDB site and utilised for the user’s purpose. This interface is not user-friendly, and hence, limits access to academia, researchers and research organisations. Moreover, the data is maintained in excel sheets which can be cumbersome to understand. While efforts maybe underway to step up the infrastructure for monitoring, the key prerequisite is a review of the existing information collection and dissemination systems.  It maybe argued that there are modern technology based applications, such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), that can crunch data and significantly contribute to decision-making on pollution prevention and control. However, such systems are complex and rely on rigorous data which as articulated earlier is not always available.

So the need really is to address three critical issues: (1) how much of pollution is out there? (2) how can it be monitored better (3) how can the information from the measurement and monitoring be disseminated better?

The India Pollution Map (www.indiapollutionmap.org),  an interactive website project uses existing information to demonstrate how monitoring can improve and how pollution related information can be disseminated more meaningfully. It aims to...

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