Air quality plan not legally binding
Air quality targets under the National Clean Air Action Plan (NCAP), which aims to reduce pollution in cities that do not meet the national air quality standard, will not be legally binding, an environment ministry official said.
The Union environment ministry is in the process of finalising NCAP.
“This is a plan. It doesn’t require to be notified under law. The plan gives a direction to cities to cut down their PM (particulate matter) concentrations in a time bound manner,” said a senior environment ministry official who asked not to be identified. He added that 86 out of 102 non-attainment cities (cities which didn’t meet the annual PM 10 national standard from 2011 to 2015) have submitted their clean air action plans so far. At least 50% of those plans have been fine-tuned by the Centre and approved for implementation, this person said.
The main target under NCAP is reducing PM 10 (coarse pollution particles) and PM 2.5 (fine, respirable pollution particles) concentrations by 20% to 30% in the first five years (2019 to 2024) . The reduction will be expected with reference to the annual average 2017 concentrations.
This target however will not be notified under the environment protection act and therefore will not be legally binding on cities.
On Monday the environment ministry organised a meeting on the implementation of NCAP.
“This is a strategy and not a law. It will not be notified but the policy document will soon be released by the environment minister. The cities in question are on board, so are various ministries involved in the plan. We are confident about ensuring implementation because state government and sectoral ministries have assured us that it is a practical target which can be achieved,” said Shruti Rai Bharadwaj, joint director, environment ministry.
For Delhi, the ministry is considering source apportionment studies conducted by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) to arrive at targets.
Activists and researchers said legally binding targets would have been preferable.
“We need legal mandate for target reduction because target reduction is going to decide the scale and stringency of action. Delhi for example has to reduce PM 2.5 concentrations by 74% to meet the national clean air standard, so it needs to know how is it going to meet the target within a time-frame. The plan should have teeth. China set the target of 25% reduction in PM levels by 2017 under its clean air act. It has already achieved it,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
China’s pollution levels and life expectancy has improved since the implementation of the national clean air action plan. China’s action plan set aside $270 billion, and the Beijing city government set aside an additional $120 billion for air pollution control. Policies included prohibiting new coal-fired plants in some regions; requiring existing coal plants to reduce emissions or be replaced with natural gas; increasing renewable energy generation; reducing iron and steel making capacity in industry; and restricting the number of cars on the road in large cities. China’s particulate pollution declined by 12% in the span of three (2013 to 2016) years, resulting in a gain in life expectancy of 0.5 years.
“While it’s heartening to know that the Govt has finalised the draft action plan which is long due, it is disappointing that it isn’t a legally binding one. Part of the struggle we’ve seen in the courts in Delhi was due to the involvement of multiple authorities and the least that one can expect from a national action program is to be legally accountable without which it will yet again remain another plan that doesn’t deliver much” said Aishwarya Sudhir, independent air pollution researcher.