We may have no option but to send our children out to play, but we should also be simultaneously working hard on long-term solutions(Mohd Zakir/HT PHOTO)
We may have no option but to send our children out to play, but we should also be simultaneously working hard on long-term solutions(Mohd Zakir/HT PHOTO)

Our clean air plan is a missed chance

It sets a target without a realistic roadmap, proposes a city-based approach that downplays regional effects, and adopts a something-for-everyone laundry list approach rather than prioritising action.
By Navroz K Dubash
UPDATED ON APR 04, 2019 10:41 AM IST

We are in the midst of that season in north India, when air quality debates die down, and parents send their children out to play. After all, the air quality index suggests “moderate” and “poor” air days, with hardly a “very poor” or “severe”. Of course, at moderate levels, the level of PM2.5 is still 2.5-3.5 times the World Health Organization (WHO) safe levels, and poor is 3.5-5 times higher. But given what Delhi feels like in the winter months, February and March seem positively inviting. After all, one cannot worry about air quality all year round, right?

Unfortunately, wrong. We may have no option but to send our children out to play, but we should also be simultaneously working hard on long-term solutions. During the apocalyptic winter months, justifiable cries of alarm translate to reactive measures: an (ineffectual) firecracker ban, throwing money at “Happy Seeders” to stop crop burning, and periodic bans on truck traffic. Some short-term response measures are needed for emergencies. But to make a real dent in the air problem requires measures to address the deep-rooted causes and not simply react to the symptoms. This is best done when we are not in panic mode.

The recent National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) is a missed opportunity to establish a long-term strategy. It sets a target without a realistic road map, proposes a city-based approach that downplays regional effects, and adopts a something-for-everyone approach rather than prioritising action. In the midst of election season, formulating a serious approach to air quality plan remains a missed political opportunity. So, what are elements of a long-term plan that truly starts the long, slow business of addressing root causes?

First, a truly effective strategy will place the challenge of ensuring compliance and enabling enforcement at the heart of pollution regulation. Too often, actions are written as if enforcement is a secondary challenge when it is actually primary. For example, to limit industrial pollution, will a combination of monitoring technology, strengthened laws, and enhanced capabilities of pollution control authorities work? Or is the enforcement challenge so great that we should simply force industries to switch to cleaner, if costlier, fuels, which may be easier to monitor? The answer is not entirely clear, but this is the question that should inform strategic policymaking.

Second, many pollution sources need multifaceted responses. For example, waste burning may best be addressed by upstream shifts in consumer behaviour, to limit waste at source. Transport emissions need a mix of public transport investments, behavioural change in transport patterns, and new transport technologies such as electric vehicles. Reactive solutions, such as banning waste burning or certain forms of transport, are but band aids.

Third, many solutions require negotiated solutions to political and economic challenges. Crop burning is unlikely to be solved by a technical solution if not burning crops costs more. The resolution lies in political negotiations around cropping pattern shifts, agricultural support policies and water use policies. Political negotiations take time and need to start now, before pressure for quick fixes sets in.

Fourth, a city-by-city approach is invariably limited. Much pollution occurs outside cities — by industry, brick kilns, power plants and crop burning. City boundary based regulation only encourages emissions leakage such as relocation of industries to the outskirts. India has to develop regulatory institutions that operate at the level of the regional “airshed”.

Fifth, we need to pick a short list of big wins to demonstrate progress and rally the public. But equally, these need to be carefully selected and maximally supported rather than the current scattershot approach. The Ujjwala scheme to provide clean cooking gas, introducing Bharat Stage VI fuels, improved power plant regulations and investment in public transport are three winning medium-term solutions. A strategic and limited set of such solutions need aggressive action.

Let us not fool ourselves. North India’s air pollution will not improve substantially for at least a few years. The scale is too large, the pollution patterns too entrenched, and the enforcement challenges too deep. But this time frame of years will stretch to decades if we do not lay the groundwork now. Reactive, limited and short-term action taken in the panic of the winter smog won’t even put us on the path to a medium-term solution. We have to keep our eye on the ball, even when the air appears clear, and invest in the necessary long-term technological, institutional and political changes.

Navroz K Dubash is professor, Centre for Policy Research

The views expressed are personal

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close
It takes courage to push a conversation that evokes almost zero public sympathy in an audience that is inclined to believe that consent has no place on the marital bed(Shutterstock)
It takes courage to push a conversation that evokes almost zero public sympathy in an audience that is inclined to believe that consent has no place on the marital bed(Shutterstock)

The conversation India refuses to have

By Namita Bhandare
UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 08:01 PM IST
In the past few years, India has broken traditional silences on sexual abuse, on consent, and on the rights of sexual minorities. It’s time to break another traditional silence
Close
What other, newer democracies find relatively easy — conducting an election, the counting of votes, the peaceful transition of power — seems to have befuddled the US. There can be and must not be any normalisation of gross prejudice or violence(AP)
What other, newer democracies find relatively easy — conducting an election, the counting of votes, the peaceful transition of power — seems to have befuddled the US. There can be and must not be any normalisation of gross prejudice or violence(AP)

After anarchy in the US, reimagining the middle ground

UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 07:53 PM IST
Governments have to learn how to engage with those who did not vote for them. Citizens have to learn how to converse amidst ideological divisions
Close
Mohammed Siraj led India’s breakthrough in the ongoing tour of Australia. But he grew up playing tennis ball cricket and first held a real cricket ball only five years ago.(Getty Images)
Mohammed Siraj led India’s breakthrough in the ongoing tour of Australia. But he grew up playing tennis ball cricket and first held a real cricket ball only five years ago.(Getty Images)

The secret weapons of a fast-bowling nation

By Rudraneil Sengupta | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 03:31 PM IST
Surprise finds are making their mark in the India bowling line-up, but they aren’t coming up through the system.
Close
A New York street in the 1920s. Just two decades earlier, in the age of horse-drawn vehicles, people had feared their cities would be buried in manure. Then the internal combustion engine took horses off the streets altogether, a shift often used to illustrate the unpredict-able fallouts of new tech.(Shutterstock)
A New York street in the 1920s. Just two decades earlier, in the age of horse-drawn vehicles, people had feared their cities would be buried in manure. Then the internal combustion engine took horses off the streets altogether, a shift often used to illustrate the unpredict-able fallouts of new tech.(Shutterstock)

The horseshit paradox: Why fears about tech are wildly exaggerated

By Charles Assisi | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 03:11 PM IST
Our world runs on complexity. And no machine we have created — or look likely to create — can truly navigate that complexity by itself, says Charles Assisi.
Close
It is no surprise that all kinds of protests are being seen in many parts of the world at the moment(SHUTTERSTOCK)
It is no surprise that all kinds of protests are being seen in many parts of the world at the moment(SHUTTERSTOCK)

This decade will be decisive for democracy, capitalism

By Shashi Shekhar
UPDATED ON JAN 03, 2021 10:07 PM IST
There is another fact which needs attention. Human civilisation has always discovered new light in the darkest days of crisis. With this hope, let us welcome this new decade.
Close
A vibrant corporate capitalist base also leads to additional revenues for the State — which, in turn, can be used for greater welfare for the marginalised and creating a more level-playing field in terms of opportunities(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)
A vibrant corporate capitalist base also leads to additional revenues for the State — which, in turn, can be used for greater welfare for the marginalised and creating a more level-playing field in terms of opportunities(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

In defence of reformed capitalism

PUBLISHED ON JAN 02, 2021 07:05 PM IST
Targeting corporate capitalism won’t help. It is essential for growth and democracy. Focus on reforming it.
Close
A health worker prepares a syringe to inoculate a volunteer with a Covid-19 vaccine, Lima, December 9, 2020(AFP)
A health worker prepares a syringe to inoculate a volunteer with a Covid-19 vaccine, Lima, December 9, 2020(AFP)

A robust public broadcaster can guard against anti-vaccine rumours

By Mark Tully
PUBLISHED ON JAN 02, 2021 07:02 PM IST
There seems no reason to doubt that a large number of Indians are, to say the least, undiscriminating in the source of news they chose to watch. This will make them liable to fall prey to false information which can undermine the vaccination campaign.
Close
The silence and loneliness of being on my own is no longer intimidating. In fact - and I know that sounds a little perverse – I’ve enjoyed it. So this morning I feel I don’t want to lose it. At least, not completely.(HTPHOTO)
The silence and loneliness of being on my own is no longer intimidating. In fact - and I know that sounds a little perverse – I’ve enjoyed it. So this morning I feel I don’t want to lose it. At least, not completely.(HTPHOTO)

Goodbye to all that? I’m not so sure

UPDATED ON JAN 02, 2021 06:55 PM IST
The honest truth – and you’ve probably guessed it by now – is that I’m going into 2021 with a little trepidation or, if that’s too strong a word, more than a touch of hesitation.
Close
n many ways, Modi’s economic vision resembles that of the United Kingdom prime minister Margaret Thatcher and the United States President Ronald Reagan. Both faced an avalanche of opposition to their push for economic reforms(PTI)
n many ways, Modi’s economic vision resembles that of the United Kingdom prime minister Margaret Thatcher and the United States President Ronald Reagan. Both faced an avalanche of opposition to their push for economic reforms(PTI)

Farm stir: Latest attempt to stop Modi’s reforms

By Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda
PUBLISHED ON JAN 01, 2021 08:06 PM IST
The Opposition may continue to denigrate him, but millions see in the PM a rare determination and willingness to take risks and cleanse the rot
Close
US President-elect Joe Biden in Delaware, December 29, 2020(REUTERS)
US President-elect Joe Biden in Delaware, December 29, 2020(REUTERS)

Biden has no record of missteps on India

PUBLISHED ON JAN 01, 2021 08:06 PM IST
With the Chinese amassing troops along the border, Indians want to see more, even as they acknowledge that the US will not conduct its foreign policy to please India, echoing a Democratic congressional aide who is normally sympathetic to India but is frustrated by “constant pushing on China”.
Close
Ancient calendars could be intricate, beautiful, but confusing. Above is a section of the ancient Mayan calendar.(Shutterstock)
Ancient calendars could be intricate, beautiful, but confusing. Above is a section of the ancient Mayan calendar.(Shutterstock)

Lend me your years: How the Indian National Calendar came into being

By Rachel Lopez | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JAN 02, 2021 08:29 PM IST
See how, back in 1955, an elite team headed by astrophysicist Meghnad Saha untangled India’s confusing variety of almanacs.
Close
An aangan in an old home in Mehrauli, New Delhi. A fixture since the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation, the courtyard faded away with the coming of Western-style architecture during colonial rule.(Mayank Austen Soofi)
An aangan in an old home in Mehrauli, New Delhi. A fixture since the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation, the courtyard faded away with the coming of Western-style architecture during colonial rule.(Mayank Austen Soofi)

Poonam Saxena writes on the true heart of the Indian home, the aangan

By Poonam Saxena | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JAN 01, 2021 07:04 PM IST
It now lives on largely in books and film, but the courtyard was where we cooked, celebrated, slept under the stars on summer nights.
Close
After a traumatic and turbulent 2020, it’s time to ring in a New Year with hope. And since Rabindranath Tagore is being rediscovered by our netas ahead of the Bengal elections, this is a prayer for India in 2021 that draws inspiration from the great poet-laureate.(Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
After a traumatic and turbulent 2020, it’s time to ring in a New Year with hope. And since Rabindranath Tagore is being rediscovered by our netas ahead of the Bengal elections, this is a prayer for India in 2021 that draws inspiration from the great poet-laureate.(Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

A ‘new’ India can’t be built by abandoning the core values of our founding fathers

UPDATED ON JAN 01, 2021 06:01 AM IST
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. Where an Indian identity is determined by citizenship, and not divided by the narrow domestic walls of caste, region or religion. Where true secularism demands that no state authority promote or discriminate against any religion, where equal respect for all faiths must be the basis of our constitutional secularism.
Close
The farmers’ protest may be geographically limited, but the ripples it has caused are international.(ANI)
The farmers’ protest may be geographically limited, but the ripples it has caused are international.(ANI)

The year is almost over, but scars will remain

By Shashi Shekhar
PUBLISHED ON DEC 27, 2020 06:13 PM IST
The year 2020 will be known as a year of bias, discontent, isolation and apprehensions. These can be brushed away by blaming the pandemic, but the virus merely amplified existing tendencies.
Close
The argument Covid-19 did not permit the session is specious. For a start, Parliament’s earlier functioning disproves it. The monsoon session was held in September when daily cases crossed 95,000. So how can a situation when the increase has reduced to under 25,000 be a credible reason for not holding the winter session?(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)
The argument Covid-19 did not permit the session is specious. For a start, Parliament’s earlier functioning disproves it. The monsoon session was held in September when daily cases crossed 95,000. So how can a situation when the increase has reduced to under 25,000 be a credible reason for not holding the winter session?(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

Parliament should sit more often

UPDATED ON DEC 26, 2020 07:36 PM IST
The bigger moral argument rests on the belief Parliament is special. It represents our nation. It speaks for us and symbolises our resolve. So if the temple of our democracy ducks the challenge of functioning in a time of the virus what’s the example it sets for the rest of us and what’s the message it sends to the world beyond our borders?
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP