On air pollution, Indian cities must do more
For Delhi and the National Capital Region, the post-Diwali months bring back the nightmarish experience of pollution, thanks to stubble burning, vehicular emissions, construction dust, waste burning, and poor management of pollution hot spots. Experts have stated the need to tailor plans to solve the unique problems that each city faces. However, most of India has failed to do so.
In 2019, the government launched the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), which mandates designing and implementing city-specific air pollution mitigation action plans. However, a 2020 Council on Energy, Environment and Water and Urban Emissions analysis of 102 city plans on legal frameworks, sectoral reduction targets, the cost-effectiveness of proposed measures, and a delineation of responsibilities among implementing agencies, identified several problems. City-level clean air plans stand as a collection of measures without specified goals, and apart from Delhi, no other plan has a legal mandate for implementation. Moreover, many plans did not have timelines; none had a regional coordination mechanism; and over 40% of the points listed fall under the purview of multiple agencies. Clean air plans of just 25 cities contain information on emissions from different polluting sources. But this information does not translate into prioritised actions listed in the plan.
Studies have shown that air pollution kills over a million people in India annually. Yet, states and institutions seem unwilling or incapable of acting. Urban air pollution will shape the development trajectory, and getting cities prepared to preserve the right of citizens to clean air is essential.