Cities are a major focus of India’s recently-released National Clean Air Programme, which sets a “tentative” national target of a 20 to 30 per cent reduction in harmful particulate matter concentrations by 2024 against 2017 level.
Action plans are being drawn up for the 102 “non-attainment” cities– those which currently fail to meet national ambient air quality standards– in consultation with the country’s Central Pollution Control Board, as the basis for implementing mitigation action under the new programme.
In the 43 “smart cities” included on the “non- attainment” list, the government will use the Smart Cities program to implement the plan.
The National Clean Air Programme is a five-year action plan starting in 2019, with the possibility of extension beyond 2024 after a mid-term review of outcomes to support required longer-term action.
“International experience 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 a longer time horizon after a mid-term review of the outcomes,” said Secretary to the Environment Ministry C.K. Mishra.
Three billion rupees (US$42,211,500) have been earmarked for the implementation of the programme for the financial years 2018-19 and 2019-20.
It was developed after the government assessed collective results from previous interventions as insufficient.
“With these recent policy interventions, the air quality has purportedly shown some minor improvement in some major cities in recent times, which, as of now, cannot be called a trend,” it states.
“This is not sufficient and a higher level of focused, time-bound initiatives, at both the city and rural level, appear obligatory to address the issue in a comprehensive manner at the national level,” it continues.
The programme dovetails ongoing and planned policies and programmes against air pollution with those under the country’s climate change plan and other initiatives of the national government.
Among its features are better enforcement of regulatory standards, increasing the number of monitoring stations in the country, developing more awareness and capacity building initiatives, source apportionment studies and specific sectoral interventions.
“The overall objective of the NCAP includes comprehensive mitigation actions for prevention, control and abatement of air pollution besides augmenting the air quality monitoring network across the country and strengthening the awareness and capacity building activities,” said Environment Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan.
The desired approach for programme is collaborative, multi-scale and cross-sectoral coordination between the relevant central ministries, state governments and local bodies.
Its stated rationale for putting cities at the heart of air pollution action is precedence; it explains that global experience shows that city-specific (rather than country oriented) action had led to 25 per cent to 40 per cent reductions in fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in cities like Beijing and Seoul over a period of five years. Santiago and Mexico City, it says, have shown dramatic reductions in 22 to 25 years in PM2.5 and PM10 levels.
According to the Indian Express, the government has stressed that the programme is a scheme rather than a legally binding document with any specific penalties or action against cities who do not meet the scheme’s requirements and standards.
Plan is welcomed, with some reservations
Green bodies and experts welcomed the government’s National Clean Air Plan to tackle pollution, albeit somewhat warily, particularly on the subjects of compliance and targets.
“NCAP’s focus on improving air quality monitoring and associated research studies, as well as city level action plans is a necessary first step,” International Council on Clean Transportation Program Director / Regional Lead, Anup Bandivadekar told the media.
“In addition to setting specific national level emission reduction targets, NCAP framework should help establish similar targets at state and city level and include a new thrust on compliance with the national as well as state and city level regulations on emissions supported by necessary enforcement actions,” he continued.
“It is good to see the final version of the NCAP out after a long wait with the vision of reducing air pollution levels across the country,” said Senior Campaigner, Greenpeace India, Sunil Dahiya, in comments to the media.
“We hoped it would be much stronger in providing sector-wise targets, targets for cities. We hope the ministry shows more seriousness in implementing the plan and strengthening it here onwards,” he said.
“But, in being a dynamic document, it gives us hope that the cities, when they submit their action plans, will overcome those shortcomings,” Dahiya said in a video produced by social media platform Let Me Breathe, which began as a hashtag used by citizens to tell their pollution stories.
He also said that there should be strong legal backing to take action against non-implementation of the plan.
At last count, nine out of the 20 cities with the highest yearly average exposure to fine particulate pollution (or PM2.5) were in India, among them those in the urban agglomeration of Delhi, whose 25 million residents spent Christmas week last month under severe to emergency air pollution conditions.
Earlier this month, it was reported that the capital New Delhi would soon submit bi-weekly action plans developed by scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi to the Central Pollution Control Board, to help authorities tackle air pollution, especially in the winter season.
India’s “smog season”, which typically kicks off in late October to early November and affects several major cities, is attributed to a cocktail of factors, with the start of crop stubble burning adding to vehicle fumes, pollution from coal-fired power plants and industries, and smoke from burning for warmth as the country heads into winter– and its severity is exacerbated by “geographical and meteorological misfortune”, including slow winter wind speeds.
Read the press release here: Government launches National Clean Air Programme (NCAP)
Download the National Clean Air Programme here (pdf, 122 pages).
Banner photo by Mark Danielson/CC BY-NC 2.0.