Last week, the Centre launched what it described as a “war against pollution” across the country — a Rs 300-crore National Clean Air Programme (NCAP). It proposes a “tentative national target” of 20%-30% reduction in PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations by 2024, with 2017 as the base year for comparison. NCAP will be rolled out in 102 cities that are considered to have air quality worse than the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The government has stressed that NCAP is a scheme, not a “legally binding” document with any specified penal action against erring cities.
NCAP takes into account available international experiences and national studies. It notes that internationally, actions have been “city-specific” rather than country-oriented, and cites examples such as Beijing and Seoul that saw 35%-40% PM2.5 reduction in five years. However effective this might have been abroad, reductions by similar levels might leave Indian cities still heavily polluted. Delhi’s very severe pollution levels are four times the permissible limits now, and a 30% reduction by 2024 would still leave it very dangerous for health.
Selection of cities
From the Central Pollution Control Board’s list of polluted cities, 102 were identified based on National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme data for 2011-2015. “PM10 has been found to be exceeding in 94 cities consecutively for five years and NO2 is exceeding the limits in five cities. PM2.5 data since 2015 indicates 16 cities as non-attainment cities,” the NCAP states. It also selects from the top 10 cities from the World Health Organisation’s April 2018 database, which had ranked 14 Indian cities among the top 15 most polluted cities in the world.
In broad terms, NCAP talks of a “collaborative, multi-scale and cross-sectoral coordination” between central ministries, state governments, and local bodies. “The CPCB shall, in consonance with the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, and in particular with the provision of Section 16(2)(b) of the Act, execute the nation-wide programme for the prevention, control, and abatement of air pollution within the framework of the NCAP,” it states. NCAP will be “institutionalised” by respective ministries and will be organised through inter-sectoral groups that will also include the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Health, NITI Aayog, and experts from various fields. While some of the strategies are not new to India, NCAP appears to be targeting effective implementation. For example, it talks of “congestion management” at traffic junctions by the traffic police, solid waste management by municipal corporations, and stringent industrial standards put in place by concerned ministries.
Source apportionment studies
NCAP identifies particulate matter as a “major challenge” that is found to exceed limits across the country and in urban areas of the Indo-Gangetic plain. “While there are some variations due to differences in methodologies and the year of estimation, however, there is broad convergence of the estimates,” it states. Identified as major pollutants are vehicles, industries, rampant construction, biomass burning, diesel gensets, and commercial and domestic use of fuel, among other things.
From the studies highlighted, it is evident that more data are available for Delhi-NCR compared to other parts of the country. In fact, NCAP states: “It is to be noted that in Delhi and NCR, the initiatives started in 1992 with the creation of the EPCA, and thus has a definite edge over other non-attainment cities.” Further, “current knowledge on the urban sources provide a basis to initiate action in the different sectors, though city-specific source apportionment studies is needed to refine air quality managements plans for the city.”
NCAP details seven mitigation actions. It calls for stringent enforcement through a web-based, three-tier mechanism that will review, monitor, assess and inspect to avoid any form of non-compliance. “The experience indicates lack of regular monitoring and inspection as the major reason for non-compliance. Trained manpower and regular inspection drive will be ensured for stringent implementation purpose.”
It calls for an “extensive plantation drive” at pollution hotspots and execution; however, it is not made clear how much air pollution this will seek to reduce. In some instances, NCAP elaborates on schemes already in place — for instance, in handling road dust and construction, where mechanical sweepers have often been suggested as a solution.
For power sector emissions, it refers to emission standards set by the Ministry of Environment and Forests for Thermal Power Plants in December 2015 to be implemented within a two-year period; it notes that this has since been extended to December 2022. For agricultural stubble burning, it highlights the initiatives already in place by way of the central assistance of Rs 1,151 crore for in situ management of crop residue and provides for general action points to be explored.
NCAP calls for a “city action plan” that needs to be “guided by a comprehensive science-based approach” involving source apportionment studies. “… Source activities and meteorological settings are the other important factors that may influence the air pollution levels. It is, therefore, proposed to select candidate cities and towns considering the above-mentioned factors,” it states. It advises that state capitals and cities with a million-plus population be taken up on priority.
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