Slowed by Covid, 100 cities must race to reach clean air targets
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced on the occasion of the 74th Independence Day on August 15 that a clean air programme would be implemented on mission mode in 100 cities soon.
But the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) has hardly made any progress since its launch last year.
City-level action plans of around 102 cities had been approved by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to meet the NCAP target of 20% to 30% reduction in PM 2.5 (respirable pollution particles) concentrations over the 2017 annual concentration.
This year, CPCB has been directing state governments about an immediate implementation of its city-level action plans.
For example, CPCB issued a directive to the West Bengal government on June 26 under section 31A (power to issue directions to any authority) of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, to implement the city-level action plans and submit a financial layout of each action within 30 days and a progress report on a quarterly basis.
NCAP has been done in by the raging coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, resultant lockdown restrictions and financial slowdown.
It is staring at an uphill task of ensuring various sectors such as industries, thermal power plants and also manage transportation to reduce emissions by moving towards cleaner processes and fuels.
“We have directed the state governments to implement the action plans. Timelines have been given to them and we have sought regular review. The 2024 deadline to achieve the NCAP target is firmly in place,” said Prashant Gargava, member-secretary, CPCB.
Clean air efforts in cities with a million-plus population got a shot in the arm with an allocation of Rs 4,400 crore for 2020-21 from the Union budget, up from Rs 460 crore for air pollution abatement last year.
Besides giving a financial boost to cities implementing the NCAP, Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said state utilities would be advised to close down old thermal power plants that are found to be non-compliant with emission standards.
“The pollution levels in Delhi in the past two-three years have been coming down. Clean air tops our agenda. However, it does not mean that clean air can be achieved by stifling development. A part of it has already been rolled out and the rest of it will be rolled out soon. There is a huge commitment as far as funds are concerned to achieve targets,” said RP Gupta, secretary, ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MOEFCC).
Experts said the ministry should have clear indicators of whether they are on track to achieve NCAP targets, else it could be left with dirtier air amid industries’ bid to bounce back from the economic impacts of the Covid-19 outbreak.
“The NCAP targets have to be met by 2024. It has to be taken very seriously. Covid-19 has helped in achieving the target. The 15th Finance Commission has announced Rs 4,400 crore, which is largely meant for state pollution control boards and urban local bodies. We need performance-based indicators for multiple sectors such as transport, industry etc. For example, the industry sector will need strategies to scale up clean energy transition and high-level emission control systems. We need a policy for that. I don’t think it can be addressed only through city-level action plans,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
“Now, most sectors will deal with economic reconstruction. So there should be an alignment of the sectoral budget with the NCAP goals. The government will also need a compliance and deterrence policy to ensure targets are met. Otherwise, we will face a larger pollution problem in the near future,” added Roy Chowdhury.
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