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Air Pollution: How Effective Has National Clean Air Programme Been In Improving Air Quality?

The National Clean Air Programme set a national level target of 40 per cent reduction in particulate matter concentration by 2025-26 from 2017

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Air Pollution: How Effective Has National Clean Air Programme Been In Improving Air Quality?
National Clean Air Programme was launched in 2019 as a “time-bound, national-level strategy”

New Delhi: On January 10, 2019, National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) was launched by the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) as a “time-bound, national level strategy” to tackle the air pollution crisis in the country in a comprehensive manner. At the launch, the then Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Dr. Harsh Vardhan had said, “Overall objective of the NCAP is 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.”

Also Read: From Pink To Black, A Chest Surgeon’s First Hand Account Of The Impact Of Air Pollution On Lungs

The tentative national level target of 20 per cent to 30 per cent reduction of PM2.5 and PM10 concentration by 2024 was proposed under the NCAP, taking 2017 as the base year for the comparison of concentration. To begin with, city specific action plans were formulated for 102 non-attainment cities, which exceed the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for 5 consecutive years.

Gradually, the number of cities identified for implementing mitigation actions under NCAP was increased to 131. It includes 123 Non-Attainment Cities (NAC) and 42 Million Plus Population Cities/Urban Agglomerations. 34 cities are common in both categories.

In 2022, the NCAP target was revised to a 40 per cent reduction in particulate matter concentration in cities and the deadline was extended till 2025-26.

Action Plans under NCAP:

  • Preparation of national level plan includes convergence of schemes/programmes of different Ministries/Departments
  • Preparation of State Action Plans in 24 states
  • Preparation of City level action plans in 131 cities

Also Read: Air pollution: Temporary Ban On BS-III Petrol, BS-IV Diesel Vehicles In Delhi

The Performance Of NCAP: Improvement In Air Quality

Based on the information available on PRANA (Portal for Regulation of Air Pollution in Non-attainment Cities), out of 131 identified cities, a decrease in PM10 concentration has been observed in 95 cities during 2021-22 as compared to levels during financial year (FY) 2017-18.

As per the Urban Lab, Centre for Science and Environment Analysis on NCAP, released on September 6, 2022,

There is barely any difference in overall PM2.5 trends between the group of cities under the National Clean Air programme (NCAP) and those outside its ambit. Both reflect similar mixed trends in air quality in different climatic zones requiring substantial reduction to meet the national ambient air quality standards for particulate matter.

Anumita Roychowdhury, Executive Director, of Research and Advocacy, CSE said,

Today it is actually a misnomer to differentiate between NCAP cities and non-NCAP cities. When we analyse data for all cities for which air quality data is available, in fact we don’t have data for many cities in India today. We find that there is very little difference in pollution levels between NCAP and non-NCAP cities which actually brings out the fact that air pollution is really a national crisis and we need to take a much wider view of this problem. What we have also found is that, if you compare the NCAP and non-NCAP cities then the levels that they have, nearly both of them, especially Northern India requires a reduction target of about 50 per cent or more to be able to meet air quality standards.

On the fourth anniversary of the NCAP, Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), an independent research organisation released a report titled “Tracing the hazy air 2023: Progress report on NCAP”. It found:

  • Air quality has improved in 49 out of 131 cities in FY 21-22, compared to the previous year
  • While cities like Allahabad, Lucknow, Varanasi, Srinagar and Moradabad have shown improvements in PM10 concentrations of more than 50 µg/m3 others like Vasai-Virar, Durgapur, Byrnihat and Kala Amb showed deterioration of air quality by similar concentrations (50 µg/m3).
  • Only 38 of the 131 cities – that were given annual pollution reduction targets under MoUs signed between State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs), Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) and CPCB or MoEF&CC- managed to meet the targets for FY21-22
  • Only 37 out of 131 cities have completed the source apportionment studies which were supposed to be completed in 2020

Also Read: Setting The ‘Clean Air’ Agenda For 2023, India Requires A Wider View Of Air Pollution Crisis

Professor Gufran Beig, Founder Director, SAFAR and Chair Professor, NIAS, IISc lauded the NCAP as it is one of the rare programmes where air quality is given due importance. But he opines that the target shouldn’t be the same for all cities. He explained,

In a city like Pune, where air quality index (AQI) is already ‘satisfactory’, reducing pollution by 25-30 per cent will bring it down to ‘good’. But, in Delhi, AQI crosses 300 and even 500. Even if you bring down AQI by 30 per cent, it will be a health hazard. By the end of 2024, if we meet the target, we will be celebrating the success of NCAP but in highly polluted cities like Delhi, Calcutta and sometimes even Patna and Kanpur, we would have moved from ‘very poor’ to ‘poor’. Maybe one or two very severe days might get reduced but there won’t be much to celebrate per se.

Professor Beig believes that mitigation targets should be based on the location and the presentation of the pollution you are dealing with. He added,

During the COVID-19 lockdown, all sources of pollution were shut but still there was pollution. And that is the level of pollution to which your body gets immune and susceptible. That is what we call baseline which differs from city to city. We cannot go below that.

Tanushree Ganguly, Programme Lead, Air Quality at Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), a not-for-profit policy research institution, is of the view that,

NCAP is a well-crafted programme not just in terms of actions or institutional arrangements which are needed to implement it, but also in the way it is being monitored and evaluated at a state, district and city levels.

Also Read: “To Reduce Air Pollution In Delhi, We Need To Cut Down Emission At Sources”: Tanushree Ganguly, Council on Energy, Environment and Water

When asked about little to no visible change in the air quality, Ms Ganguly said,

Air pollution or air quality is a trait which cannot have immediate short-term impacts. It is something which will see incremental impacts.

But immediate interventions can take place. This includes,

Garbage burning comes to a stop and construction sites, industrial sites and power plants are compliant. Ensuring compliance across sources of pollution is critical but we also need to understand that you cannot see overnight air quality benefits.

Ms Ganguly agrees that we have not really seen drastic benefits in terms of improvement across cities but there is action going on around the cities. She added,

When NCAP was launched in 2019, there were close to 130 continuous air quality monitoring stations. Today, across the country, we have over 400 continuous air quality monitoring stations which mean, there is also a focus on improving the availability of data on air pollution levels in the country. While we are not really seeing drastic improvements in air quality, there is action happening on the ground and there is a need to amplify messaging around these actions which may have localised benefits.

The Performance Of NCAP: Funds Released vs Utilised

Sharing the positives and negatives of the NCAP, Ms Chowdhury lauded the financial support that the programme has provided to the cities that too on a performance basis. She said,

It is through NCAP that for the first time funds were allotted for clean air mitigation via Centre. Funding has also come under the 15th Finance Commission. Importantly, the funding has become performance linked which means, now for the cities to access central assistance, they will have to ensure and prove that they have been able to improve the air quality.

Also Read: Disease, Disability And Death: Impact Of Exposure To Air Pollution

As per the information given by the Ministry of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Ashwini Kumar Choubey in a written reply in Lok Sabha on December 12, 2022, under NCAP Rs 474.19 crores have been provided during 2019-20 to 2020-22 for taking up activities for improving the air quality in non-attainment cities and Rs 596.6 crore have been earmarked for 2022-23. Additionally, Rs. 1,951.25 crores have been allocated for 2023-2024 to 2025-26.

Further, 15th Finance Commission (XV-FC) has provided a special grant of Rs 6,425 crore for FY 2020-21 and 2021-22 to 42 million plus cities/urban agglomerations. Rs. 2,290 crore has been earmarked for 2022-23 and Rs. 7,623 crores have been allocated for 2023-2024 to 2025-26.

There is no clear and latest data available on the utilization of funds on PRANA. However, answering a question in the Lok Sabha on August 1, 2022, Mr Choubey said that Rs. 472.06 crores have been released between 2019 and 2022. Of this, Rs. 227.61 crores have been utilised as on June 2022, which essentially means 51.78% remains unutilised.

According to the CSE analysis, even though the NCAP programme has targets for both PM2.5 and PM10 reduction by 2024, due to inadequate PM2.5 monitoring, Central Pollution Control Board considers only PM10 for the first air quality performance assessment for fund disbursement. This makes dust control the primary focus of clean air action diverting attention and resources from combustion sources including industry, vehicles and waste burning.

Ms Roychowdhury said,

The benchmark of measuring that performance has to improve. Currently, PM10 levels, largely consisting of dust, are considered as a yardstick. As a result of that, actions and funds get diverted to mitigating road dust, including road sweeping. Though road dust is a contributor, more harmful pollutants coming from combustion sources like industry, vehicles and waste burning get neglected. I believe PM2.5, which is a smaller particle and more harmful, should become the basis of the performance and then we will begin to see changes.

Also Read: Alarming Rise In Lung Cancer Amongst Non-Smokers, Women And Youngsters: Study

The Future Of NCAP

Now that the deadline for NCAP has been extended and funds for mitigation are in place, what more should India do to ensure clean air for all? Professor Beig opines effective implementation. He said,

Implementation is not really happening at the speed it should be. Unless air pollution makes headlines, people don’t follow the norms. Also, there is a significant gap between the two groups of people – policymakers and those with scientific expertise. More communication needs to take place between the two groups. Thirdly, we should forget about the boundaries between states as air pollution and climate change do not see the boundary. We should communicate with each other. Make a strategic plan for mitigation of this based on emission inventory – that tells you that at this point in time, what are the local sources of pollution.

India can also take a leaf from China’s book, a country with a population larger than India’s and an equivalently humongous problem of air pollution. Explaining how China has successfully managed to tackle the pollution crisis, Ms Roychowdhury said, in 2012, China started working with a five-year plan and a target of reducing pollution by 25 per cent. She added,

When they talk about Beijing, it is not just Beijing city like it is not just Delhi. Beijing, 26 neighbouring cities and a much larger region around it, were brought under an integrated plan with horizontal and vertical accountability for the entire region. They focused on each sector; to control vehicular pollution, they have a quota on the number of cars that can be sold in a year. Simultaneously, they expanded their metro, BRT, bus system, and electrification of the vehicles. The way they have moved out of the dirty fuels in the region for power generation and industrial sector, it is that scale of action that has helped Beijing met its target of not only 25 per cent but actually reducing pollution by 40 per cent by 2020.

Also Read: As Mumbai Surpasses Delhi In Air Pollution Levels, Can India Look At Surat’s Emission Trading Scheme To Mitigate The Problem?

Therefore, Ms Roychowdhury said, “a top-down policy will have to be supported by the bottom-up preparedness to absorb that and to have a very strong binding implementation strategy.” That is where we are not being able to bridge the gap yet. That’s learning from other cities. They are looking at more disruptive changes.

The analysis by CREA stresses that India will be required to install more than 300 manual air quality monitoring stations per year to reach the NCAP goal of 1,500 monitoring stations by 2024. This is a tall ask as only 180 stations were installed over the last four years.

Sunil Dahiya, an analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air said,

India needs to move to a sectoral emission load reduction-based approach for air quality management as it is only the reduction in consumption of polluting fuels and efficient pollution control at the source that will improve air quality in the long run.

Also Read: October-November Period Least Polluted In Delhi In Eight Years: Centre For Science And Environment

NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ populationindigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diarrhoea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.

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