[op-ed snap] Rural India’s ignored air pollution problem

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Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: The op-ed crucially highlights the often ignored impacts of deteriorating air quality on rural areas.


News

Context

  1. New Delhi’s status as national capital ensures that it will receive plenty of attention every year come winter.
  2. Rural India in the north of the country the heart of the problem does not receive equal attention.

Popular perception is Wrong

  1. India’s air pollution issue often comes off as a peculiarly urban problem.
  2. The WHO’s Air Pollution and Child Health: Prescribing Clean Air report released earlier this week contradicts the fact.
  3. The report notes that the main sources of air pollution may vary from urban to rural areas, but no area is safer from the peril of toxic air.
  4. This is much or more a rural issue as far the 1.1 million air pollution-related deaths in 2015, 75% were in rural India.

Entire north is under severe threat

  1. Every winter, the Indo-Gangetic plains, housing nearly a third of India’s population, are blanketed with a thick layer of ambient pollution.
  2. Stubble burning, brick kilns, coal-fired factories and wood-fires for heat all contribute.
  3. The problem is that of the 600-plus air quality monitoring stations the CPCB set up across the country, there are none in rural areas.

More Children are at Risk

  1. The report found India had almost 61,000 deaths of children under 5years due to ambient and household pollution.
  2. India’s 98% children are exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution.
  3. This exposes them to a number of long-term physical and mental developmental problems.
  4. This exposure is also connected with the country’s shifting epidemiological profile where non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular conditions and cancer are increasing.

Situation is worsen by Indoor Pollution

  1. In 2003, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) issued guidelines for ambient air quality monitoring.
  2. They differentiated between the types of pollution affecting urban and rural areas.
  3. When it comes to the latter, the guidelines focus entirely on indoor air pollution.
  4. The use of biomass fuels for indoor cooking, heating and light is a significant problem, true enough; the recent focus on this is appreciable.

Draft policy to mitigate

  1. The draft National Clean Air Programme put out earlier this year was an opportunity to plug the gaps.
  2. The programme aims to expand the monitoring network to include 50 rural areas with at least one monitoring station each.
  3. Though a start at best, at least 1,200 are needed to present an accurate spatial picture of rural air quality.
  4. However, the programme doesn’t envisage any cooperation and coordination across crucial ministries such as health, transport and energy.

Policies hasn’t delivered yet

  1. The government’s Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, aimed at shifting poor households from biomass to clean LPG had the right idea.
  2. But it hasn’t quite worked out that way in practice.
  3. LPG costs are a major deterrent to adoption and that even in households where LPG is used, fuel stacking—using biomass fuels alongside LPG is common.

Way Forward

  1. Empirical evidence from rural India shows that the transition of households to move towards cleaner energy with rising incomes often doesn’t hold true.
  2. This is impacted by various factors such as Educated females, family sizes etc.
  3. The first step in the comprehensive framework should be the data collection.
  4. The draft policy should be put to immediate effect with adequate budgetary provision.
Air Pollution
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