95 out of 131 cities under national programme show improvement in air quality
Officials said that 27 cities under NCAP including Chennai are meeting the annual PM 10 air quality standard of 60 micrograms per cubic metres
Ninety-five out of 131 cities covered under the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) have shown an improvement in air quality with Varanasi recording the highest—53%—decline in PM 10 concentrations in 2021-22 compared to the baseline of 2017.
In 2017, Varanasi’s annual PM 10 concentration was 244 micrograms per cubic metres. It declined to 114 micrograms per cubic metres in 2021-22. Delhi’s air quality has also improved as per Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)’s assessments. In 2017, Delhi’s PM 10 annual average concentration was 241 micrograms per cubic metres. It has declined to 196 micrograms per cubic metres in 2021-22, a drop of 18.6%.
“The good thing is that we are seeing an improvement in air pollution levels in the Indo-Gangetic Plains cities which had very high concentrations of air pollution. Varanasi has mainly focused on dust and waste management in the past two years. Delhi is also improving. Cities in Punjab have improved marginally,” said a Union environment ministry official on the occasion of International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies on Wednesday.
The official added that 27 cities under NCAP including Chennai are meeting the annual PM 10 air quality standard of 60 micrograms per cubic metres.
Officials cautioned that the annual pollution levels of these cities have to be monitored for a few years to be sure that they are able to sustain the improvement.
According to a booklet Union environment minister Bhupender Yadav launched on best practices being followed in eight cities including Bengaluru and Pune for air pollution control, Varanasi has started a door-to-door collection of waste in 40 wards. Waste segregation has also been undertaken in the city along with mechanical sweeping on important roads. A waste-to-energy plant has been installed with a capacity of 5 tonnes per day. Thirty-one construction and demolition waste collection centres were also fully operational there.
A second official said most cities under NCAP have recorded an improvement in PM 10 levels through dust and waste management. “PM 2.5 (fine respirable particles) is are not being monitored by NCAP because combustion sources like vehicles and thermal power plants mainly contribute to PM 2.5 emissions. With the implementation of BS VI and CNG fuel that issue will also be addressed.”
Centre for Science and Environment executive director Anumita Roychowdhury said NCAP set a national level target of 20-30% reduction in PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations by 2024 from the 2017 base year. She underlined the CPCB’s performance assessment of NCAP cities for disbursement of performance-linked funds has considered only PM10 data related largely to coarse dust particles. “As the monitoring of PM2.5, the tinier particles that are much more harmful, is limited, a uniform assessment of cities based on PM2.5 reduction has not been considered for performance assessment.”
Roychowdhury said PM 10 has become the focus for action under NCAP which is why cities are focusing on road dust, sprinkling, etc leading to a bias in mitigation strategy and detracting attention from combustion sources. “PM 2.5 has to be the focus of NCAP.”
The Centre launched NCAP in 2019 to reduce PM 10 and PM 2.5 pollution by 20 to 30% over 2017 levels by 2024 across cities which did not meet air quality standards for five consecutive years.
iForest, an environmental organisation, separately released a report on Wednesday titled ‘Jobs for Clean Air: National Programme for Capacity Development for Air Quality Management’ saying at least 280000 organisations and industries across the country require personnel for air quality management. It identified 42 specific job roles required to control air pollution. They include municipal workers involved in dust control and construction and demolition waste management, and specialists in transport planning, air quality modelling, and forecasting.
The report said 2.2 million jobs were required to manage air pollution. A large number of these jobs, about 1.6 million, exist. But many of those doing them have never been trained to manage air quality.
“Our report shows that we need to train at least one million people over the next five years for air quality management. This will also create tens of thousands of new jobs in the public and private sector to plan, monitor, mitigate, and control air pollutants”, said iFOREST CEO Chandra Bhushan, who is the lead author of the report.