Analysis | Election manifestos feature air plan but little action on ground
A new report titled “Political Leaders Position and Action on Air Quality in India” released by Climate Trends also highlighted that members of parliament in 14 Indian cities, among the most polluted cities globally as per the WHO 2018 urban air quality database, have done little to get their cities to comply with safe air quality standards locally.
Air pollution finds a mention in the manifestos of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress and the CPI(M), but none promises to ensure the country meets the national safe air quality standard in the next five years.
A new report titled “Political Leaders Position and Action on Air Quality in India” released by Climate Trends, a Delhi-based communications strategy initiative, on Tuesday also highlighted that members of parliament in 14 Indian cities, among the most polluted cities globally as per the WHO 2018 urban air quality database, have done little to get their cities to comply with safe air quality standards locally.
They haven’t even raised the issue in public fora despite data showing dangerous levels of air pollution.
To be sure, in many cases, MPs have little to do with local interventions, which are managed by state governments or local bodies. They do, however, have funds from the MP Local Area Development Scheme to spend on local interventions.
The BJP manifesto released on Monday says that through concerted action, it will reduce pollution levels by at least 35% over the next five years in 102 cities. It also said the National Clean Air Plan (NCAP) would be made into a mission. But given the record of the National Mission for Clean Ganga, experts said declaring the programme a mission may not be enough to guarantee its implementation. The BJP also claimed that speed and effectiveness in issuing forest and environmental clearances led to adding of around 9,000 sqkm to the forest cover of the country.
“It’s a gem. The diversion of forest land led to creation of forests! Maybe they meant compensatory plantations, but didn’t Cromptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and Supreme Court not conclude that too was a failure?” tweeted Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher at Centre for Policy Research (CPR).
The Congress manifesto calls air pollution a “national public health emergency” and promises to strengthen the NCAP by stipulating sectoral emission standards. Congress also promises to assess district level forest cover, and increase forest cover from 21% nationally to 25% by 2025.
All three parties have promised to improve public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure. The Climate Trends report highlights that air pollution levels in the 14 cities have been on the rise, but that there has been little political motivation to reverse the trend.
For example, in Kanpur, PM10 concentrations increased from 200 micrograms per cubic metres to 224 micrograms per cubic metres between 2014 and 2018.
In PM Modi’s constituency Varanasi, PM10 levels were 140 micrograms per cubic metres in 2014 and rose to 244 micrograms per cubic metres in 2017.
In Lucknow, BJP MP and home minister, Rajnath Singh’s constituency, PM 10 levels rose from 174 micrograms per cubic metres to 246 micrograms per cubic metres.
“To decongest the city, a 100-km long ring road is to be constructed in Lucknow. The ministry of road transport and highways has given clearance for it and the project will cost more than ₹3,000 crore,” Singh said in 2015 but there were no substantial local measures taken to bring down concentrations.
In Delhi, air pollution levels fell marginally from 278 micrograms per cubic metres in 2017 to 240 micrograms per cubic metres in 2018.
“The manifestos of both the national parties have proven that political parties cannot ignore and neglect air pollution related health emergency any more. This rhetoric is a good sign. But the bigger question is - if this electoral promise will translate into strong enough political will to push for hard action with accountability and show results,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment. Delhi’s air pollution levels recorded a fall in 2018 because of multiple strategies, she added.
“Clearly in Delhi NCR, emergency action in the form of graded response action plan and longer term comprehensive action plan have been taken forward. Delhi has shut down power plants, stopped use of polluting fuels like pet coke and furnace oil in industries, brick kilns in the region have moved to clean technology, and there are local area pollution plans so we are now seeing early signs of stabilisation,” Roychowdhury added.