Needless delays in executing projects have led to the worsening of air quality across several cities in the country and a new draft audit inspection report shows that the purpose of setting up continuous real time air quality monitoring stations by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has been defeated.
Air pollution has jumped to the number five spot among the top killers, according to India specific data released by the Global Burden of Disease, which stated that it had caused over six lakh deaths in 2010. While another Environment Day will be observed on June 5, experts have raised issues whether adequate awareness had been created and measures taken to protect nature.
Twelve years ago, the Supreme Court (SC) had identified 16 cities where air pollution was high and respirable particulate matter had exceeded permissible limits. The court had directed the respective state governments to prepare an action plan to control air pollution in those cities but a draft audit inspection report has shown that the aim to set up continuous real time air quality monitoring stations had been defeated.
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While the office of the principal director of the Audit Scientific Department, New Delhi, sent the draft inspection report to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in February, it has shown that data had not been updated regarding continuous real time air quality monitoring at 16 locations in the country.
Moreover, a project, Indian Cities Air Quality Information System, that was to set up a robust database management system in 2011 and executed by Pune-based Centre for Development of Advanced Computing C-DAC was delayed by over four years.
The CPCB plays a key role in controlling pollution and in 2003, the board had agreed to set up continuous air quality monitoring stations at 16 cities. The audit conducted in February showed that CPCB was not receiving data on real-time basis. In Maharashtra, there are three sites – Mumbai, Pune and Solapur. In Pune, the station has been discontinued due to local issues, while in Solapur, it is not online. Real-time data is also not online in Kolkata, Jodhpur and Patna, while in Bangalore connectivity issues pose a problem. The only cities where current real time data is available are Kanpur, Varanasi, Ahmedabad and Agra.
Pune-based civic activist Vihar Durve, who had obtained a copy of the 49-page draft inspection report through the Right to Information (RTI) Act and subsequently sent it to the Ministry for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, chief ministers of various states, the National Green Tribunal and others, told The Indian Express that there had been numerous delays in several projects.
The audit on accounts of CPCB for the period 2013-14 was conducted from January 1 to February 18. According to the report, there has also been a delay in the completion of Indian Cities Air Quality Information System. The project was sanctioned on March 29, 2010, with C-DAC being expected to complete it by 2011. The first installment of Rs 94 lakh was released by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in April 2010 and second installment of Rs 12 lakh in March 2012.
This would have been a robust data-based management system designed to handle and retrieve large volume of data related to air quality. It is provided with a web-based interface to upload, manage and access data. The audit team observed that the project was to be completed by March 31, 2011, but the MoU between CPCB and C-DAC was executed in October 2010 and the first installment of Rs 79 lakh was released in May 2011.
There was a delay in release of funds (from the date of release by Ministry of Environment and Forests) by 13 months. It was only on January 1, that the acceptance report on the project was issued, stating that it was completed and software was acceptable. The report shows that CPCB was not monitoring the progress of the project on a regular basis.
While CPCB officials were not available for comments, Akshara Kaginalkar, head of Computational Earth Science (CES) group, C-DAC, told The Indian Express that UrbAirIndia – a decision support system for Indian urban air quality management – had been rolled out this year. UrbAirIndia is an integrated web-based GIS-enabled system and can be used to assess air pollution impacts from present and future development for a sustainable future, she said.