A year after announcement, work starts for clean air programme
It’s been a year since the central government came up with the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) and five months since it was formally launched, but the implementation of the national-level strategy to reduce air pollution is yet to begin. The steering committee on implementation of NCAP is set to meet for the first time on June 10.
With elections over and the Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) back in power, all eyes are on whether the government can reduce people’s exposure to severe air pollution over the next five years. The Centre now has the task of delivering its target of 20-30% reduction in PM 2.5 (fine, respirable pollution particles) and PM 10 (coarse pollution particles) concentration in 102 non-attainment cities over 2017 levels, by 2024.
Non-attainment cities are those that did not meet the annual PM 10 national standard from 2011 to 2015. The permissible limits for PM 2.5 is 60 micro grams/ cubic metre, while for PM 10 is 100 micro grams/ cubic metre, for 24 hours.
According to the NCAP document released in January, areas that need mitigation action include pollution from road dust, construction and demolition waste; industrial emissions; transport; emissions from agriculture; and indoor air pollution. The document lists plantation drives as a significant mitigation action.
“International experiences and national studies indicate that significant outcome in terms of air pollution initiatives are visible only in the long term, and hence the programme may be further extended to 20-25 years in the long term after a mid-term review...,” the document states. While the NCAP does not have an annual or mid-term target, a mid-term review will be carried out in 2024.
A lack of clear timelines and monitoring mechanism has experts worried.
At the launch of the environment ministry’s air pollution theme song “Hawa ane de” (Let the air in), environment secretary CK Mishra recently said, “We don’t have any annual target. Progress will be monitored periodically... 84 cities have submitted action plans, which have been reviewed and are ready for implementation.”
A senior Central Pollution Control Board official said the board had directed cities to start implementing city-level plans. However, the 84 city-level action plans are not in the public domain yet. According to a commentary published by US-based air pollution scientists Joshua Apte and Pallavi Pant in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on May 28, the NCAP would be far more effective if it focused on a regional approach. The NCAP has city-level action plans as the main strategy.
“First, while PM 2.5 is thought of as a comparatively localised pollutant relative to CO2, the days-to-weeks atmospheric lifetime of fine particles means that PM 2.5 is effectively transported not just across building envelopes, but also across villages, cities, states, and countries. This suggests that coordinated regional action — in addition to city-level mitigation as envisaged by India’s NCAP — may be required to substantially improve ambient air quality, even in small areas,” the commentary read.
Santosh Harish, fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, said, “We have to transcend city-level boundaries in terms of implementation if we have to see effective reduction in concentrations. NCAP also needs to have realistic timelines and intermediate milestones.”
He added that big-ticket solutions would have to be prioritised by the committee.
“I think if the end goal is to reduce concentration, then each source of PM emission has to be identified and addressed. The mechanism of monitoring will be worked out in our first meeting,” said Sachidananda Tripathi, a professor of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur.
According to Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment, “We need an indicator to monitor change. It is to see if the plan is moving in the direction it is supposed to. The Centre should look into the larger legal compliance mechanism.”