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The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) plans to project powerful laser beams in the sky to shed more light on the composition of pollutants present in the air of the Delhi-NCR but the proposal has hit a financial roadblock. The apex pollution regulator has drafted a proposal to mount five LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) equipment across the region which will essentially act as pollution monitoring towers. Officials, who are in the know, said the plan was drawn up last year itself, however, it has not made much progress so far due to monetary constraints. "LIDAR projects laser beams towards the sky. Subsequently, the interplay of light with the objects falling on its path through absorption, reflection, scattering help determine the composition of particulates by studying the wavelengths," an official said, wishing to remain anonymous. The project document pegged the cost of each such device at Rs 60-70 lakh.
The plan was to install five such devices for the time being. The devices may also help determine the trajectory of the pollutants present in the upper layers of the atmosphere, which are not always possible through the conventional surface-level monitoring. "It becomes easier to pinpoint the source of pollutants through this technique," a CPCB scientist said. In fact, Nepal already has a facility of vertical monitoring of air under a United Nations-funded project to study the transboundary nature of pollutants. India had seven stations along its eastern and western borders under a similar project, an offshoot of the Male declaration on Control and Prevention of Air Pollution and its Likely Transboundary Effects for South Asia. But even in this case, "fund crunch" has forced India to abandon the project, the scientist said. "In such a situation, it would not be fair to expect comprehensive pollution data. We need to put in place a diverse monitoring network and that requires money. And CPCB with an annual budget of around Rs 40 crore for air pollution monitoring is not in a position to deliver," the official said. But there have been a few findings in the recent past which point towards the need for such advanced monitoring. A team of CPCB scientists have found that air-borne particles from the salt mines of Afghanistan are pushing up the levels of air pollutants, especially PM2.5, in Delhi. Winds are carrying the salt particles from those areas of Afghanistan which have large salt pans. Last month, the Centre-run pollution monitoring agency, SAFAR, had identified a West Asian dust storm as the chief trigger behind the November smog episode in the Delhi-NCR.