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Govt says air pollution an urban phenomenon; experts disapprove

New Delhi: Air pollution is primarily an urban phenomenon and the government is focusing on monitoring ambient air quality in urban areas, Parliament has been informed.

Of the 1,243 air quality monitoring stations covering 465 cities in the country, only 26 have been installed in rural areas -- 24 in Punjab and two in Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu on an experimental basis.

"Air pollution is primarily an urban phenomenon. Therefore, the government is focusing on monitoring ambient air quality in urban areas," Union Minister of State for Environment Ashwini Kumar Choubey told Rajya Sabha on Thursday.

In addition, the government has sanctioned 17 monitoring stations in rural areas of Himachal Pradesh (5), Kerala (2), Mizoram (5), Odisha (2), Tripura (1) and Uttar Pradesh (2), the minister said.

However, experts say if the government doesn't monitor air pollution in rural areas, "it doesn't mean it doesn't exist".

"Air pollution is a regional issue and all areas get affected. Industries, thermal power plants and brick kilns are set up near rural areas, solid fuel (wood and charcoal) is used in rural households," said Vivek Chattopadhyaya, Principal Programme Manager, Clean Air, at Centre for Science and Environment.

The government's air pollution management strategy needs to move beyond the city-centric approach and cover all areas. For example, improving air quality in Delhi alone doesn't help if outer areas do not control air pollution properly, he said.

Chandra Bhushan, CEO of International Forum for Environment, Sustainability & Technology (iForest), said there is a lot of satellite data and studies that show air pollution is as big a problem in rural areas as in urban areas.

"A large part of rural India is now nearer to cities; a lot of industrial areas are in close proximity and biomass burning is common there." he said.

Sunil Dahiya, an analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, cited the example of poor air quality in the entire Indo-Gangetic plain to stress that air pollution "flows like a river" from Punjab to West Bengal and all areas get affected.

"If air pollution is not monitored in rural areas, it doesn't mean it doesn't exist."

He said the government should also put out pollution data received from industries set up in rural areas in public domain to enhance coverage.

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