102 city air pollution action plans ready but lack regional focus
Delhi’s action plan highlights some major cross-border issues such as exploring the feasibility of U-turns and underpasses near borders to turn back non-destined vehicles, covering trucks carrying construction material and addressing stubble burning.
The Centre has approved air pollution action plans for 102 non-attainment cities that did not meet the annual PM 10 national standard from 2011 to 2015 under the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP).
Delhi’s action plan highlights some major cross-border issues such as exploring the feasibility of U-turns and underpasses near borders to turn back non-destined vehicles, covering trucks carrying construction material and addressing stubble burning. But none of this is possible without regional cooperation among northern states.
NCAP was launched in January last year to reduce PM 2.5 pollution by 20 to 30% over 2017 levels by 2024.
But most of the city action plans published by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) recently on their website are localised, with little attention to regional pollution spikes similar to the one presently affecting the Indo-Gangetic Plain states.
Since many of the cities do not have source apportionment studies (contribution of various sources) unlike Delhi, the city plans do not reflect how the NCAP target will be met in a time-bound manner.
The lack of an air-shed level focus of NCAP in the past 11 months raised concerns among experts that NCAP may continue to overlook issues such as cross boundary transport of pollution, meteorological factors, large regional sources such as industries, brick kilns and thermal power plants.
Amritsar’s action plan, for example, talks about addressing vehicular pollution, control of road dust, control on waste burning and industrial emissions through measures such as phasing out more than 15-year-old vehicles, conversion to CNG, using water sprinklers to keep dust down, greening of open spaces among many others. But these interventions are limited to the city limits of Amritsar.
Similarly, for Kanpur or Lucknow, the city plans focus on decongesting roads, monitoring of diesel gensets, greening open areas, waste management and others but do not specify how industrial stack pollution; stubble residue burning, thermal power plant emissions will be addressed for the entire IGP region, which is the most polluted air shed in India, according to Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC)’s recent research.
Case in point: Thermal power plants in Delhi-NCR had a deadline of meeting emissions norms by December 2019, which would have helped tide over the pollution crisis this winter. The ministry of power had assured the Supreme Court that all thermal power plants in Delhi-NCR will meet the deadline to address severe pollution here but in a recent SC-mandated panel—Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) meeting in October, both Haryana and Uttar Pradesh government representatives said they would not be able to meet the 2019 deadline.
For the rest of the country also, thermal power plants are unlikely to meet the December 2022 deadline as tendering for pollution control equipment has not started. The environment ministry recently had a meeting with banks and power producers to facilitate financing for procurement of equipment. Experts said NCAP should have prioritised industrial and power plant emissions.
Coal-based thermal power industry is responsible for 60% of the industrial sector’s PM emissions (when one includes coal mining), 45% of sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions, 30% of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions and 80% of mercury emissions, says the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
Coal-based power plants totalling 13.2 GW operate within 300 km of Delhi and are a major contributor to air pollution.
The centre’s in-situ crop stubble management scheme to address crop stubble burning will require a course correction as fires peaked this year despite around a Rs 1,100-crore subsidy scheme being implemented in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
“The first year of NCAP has been entirely about city-level action plans, like many of us were concerned it would. Such a city-centric approach alone will not work for a complex issue like air pollution where action has to be at a regional level too. Furthermore, the government has been lax with the implementation of critical interventions like power plant emission standards, where we have arguably moved backwards in the last year,” Santosh Harish, fellow at Centre for Policy Research.
“NCAP was announced early this year following which city level plans were being approved. That process is over for many cities. Actual tracking of action will probably start now. The issue is that presently the extent of the plan is being defined by municipal limits of cities. NCAP needs to move towards a regional air shed approach. Intergovernmental cooperation may be needed as is the case for Delhi NCR,” said Anumita Chowdhury, executive director, CSE adding ground-level impact of NCAP needs to be monitored.
NCAP targets are not legally binding on states either because NCAP relies on a “collaborative” approach and targets are entirely voluntary.
Officials hope sector-specific actions mentioned in the NCAP document will help address those issues.
“The NCAP has sector-specific plants such as Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana to provide LPG to the poor, Swachch Bharat scheme, emission norms for thermal power plants and industries. These will also help,” said CPCB member secretary Prashant Gargava.