The draft National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) has missed out Patna, Gaya and Muzaffarpur in its list of polluted cities even though WHO recently listed them among the top 20. While NCAP is the first document that looks at air pollution as a problem across the country and not just the Delhi-NCR region, experts said that it lacked specific targets and was meaningless.
On Monday, a workshop was jointly organised by the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) and Parisar to highlight, as well as seek comments to, NCAP recently announced by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), which is out for public comments until May 17 this year.
Ritwick Dutta, the Managing Trustee of LIFE and a senior environment lawyer, said that the plan was too techno-centric without any target and without any detail on action against violations. Experts pointed out that while the emphasis was on data collection the draft did not propose any outline on what the intended outcome of the data would be and how the data collected would help reduce air pollution.
Even though air pollution affects not just the environment but also health, the draft entrusts all responsibility of the air pollution action plan on MoEF and CPCB. No inter-ministerial or inter-departmental coordination is outlined. Without such coordination with ministries like that of health, industry, mines, transport, energy and others a successful implementation of the plan will be an impossible and unrealistic task to achieve.
Dr Manas Ranjan Roy, former Assistant Director with Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute (CNCI), Kolkata, said that he and others had undertaken extensive air pollution health studies, none of which were used by policymakers. “The draft action plan dismisses all international health studies on air pollution and health and proposes ‘indigenous’ studies. Further, the plan suggests two studies (details of which have not been specified) and has allocated a budget of Rs 5 crore. Will two studies justify the increasing adverse impacts of air pollution on health,” he asked.
The panelists included environment officer, PMC, Mangesh Dighe, who said that as per the Environment Status Report 2017, there were 33 lakh registered vehicles in the city. Two-wheelers constitute 70-75 per cent of the vehicles. He said public transport had to be strengthened to control the number of vehicles on roads, which will then help reduce vehicular pollution.
Sujit Patwardhan, founder member of Parisar, stressed on the need for questioning the path of development India is following. “We are heading towards a car-oriented society and hence there is a constant demand for flyovers and wider roads. The maximum requests for cutting trees in Pune comes from the Road department and yet there is little support to improving public transportation in the city.”
Experts said describing the draft as “national” was a complete farce as it had not even been published in any language other than English. It is only available online and has not been made available in any other form to states to be shared with citizens for any meaningful critique. The draft plan does not set any specific targets nor does it lay down specific timelines for implementation of most of the important components, said Sunil Dahiya, senior campaigner from Greenpeace.
The aim of the draft plan is to increase the ambient air quality monitoring network. But what is proposed is actually a marginal ncrease of 300 stations, which in no way can cater to 4,000 cities across the country. The plan offers no clarity on city selection criteria for establishing these new monitoring networks.