All you need to know about the Centre?s new clean air programme

With 102 Indian cities in focus and a budget of Rs.300 crore, the BJP-led central government launched a five-year action plan to comprehensively combat pollution.

With the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate aims to tackle “one of the biggest global environmental challenges” by laying down more tangible goals for its mid-term plan, as compared to the draft NCAP released in April 2018.

Focus on dying cities

Calling the initiative path-breaking, NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant shed light on some of the immediate challenges India faces on the environment front.

“Today cities occupy just 3% of the land, but contribute to 82% of GDP and [are] responsible for 78% of carbon dioxide emissions; cities though are engines of growth and equity but they have to be sustainable and it is in this context that NCAP, being a very inclusive program, holds special relevance,” he said.

What the plan aims to achieve?

The objective of the NCAP is to introduce comprehensive actions that prevent, control and abate air pollution in a time-bound manner, besides augmenting the air quality monitoring network across the country and strengthening the awareness and capacity-building activities, Union minister Harsha Vardhan said on Thursday.

This means that the number of air quality monitoring centres across the country will go up in the coming years. According to environmental analysts and activists, 4,000 monitors are needed across the country, instead of the existing 101 real-time air quality (AQ) monitors.

The NCAP will also attempt to reduce the PM2.5 and PM10 levels in the country by 20-30%, in light of the disastrous air quality index registered across major cities last year.

How will it achieve that?

Designed as a three-tier system, the plan of action includes real-time physical data collection, data archiving, and an action trigger system in all 102 cities, besides extensive plantation plans, research on clean-technologies, landscaping of major arterial roads, and stringent industrial standards.

The NCAP also allocates for rural monitoring stations, tech support and certification agencies for monitoring equipment, besides stressing the need for studies to determine polluting sources, proper implementation of existing fossil fuel (BS-VI) norms, and conducting awareness and capacity-building initiatives.

It also proposes state-level plans of e-mobility in the two-wheeler sector, rapid development in charging infrastructure and public transportation system, and the adoption of third-party audits for industries whose operations cause widespread environmental damage.

“The programme will partner with multilateral and bilateral international organisations, and philanthropic foundations and leading technical institutions to achieve its outcomes,” the government said.

Unveiling the action plan, Vardhan said it will be institutionalised by respective ministries and organised through inter-sectoral groups including the likes of Ministry of Road Transport and Highway, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Ministry of Heavy Industry, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Health, NITI Aayog, CPCB, experts from the industry, academia, and civil society.

An initial budget of Rs.300 crore has been allocated for the first two years, and the programme may be extended beyond the five-year frame depending on the results it yields.

To put things in perspective

The 102 cities targeted in the first phase also includes 42 Smart Cities like Delhi, Varanasi, Bhopal, Kolkata, Noida, Muzaffarpur, and Mumbai. All of them have shown consistently hazardous levels of air pollution that miss the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, between 2011 and 2015. According to a report released by the World Health Organisation in May 2018, 14 of the 15 most polluted cities in the world are in India.

“So far we had only been looking at National Capital Region (NCR) to mitigate air pollution, but now we have attempted to reach out to different parts of the country. It is a comprehensive plan that is specific to each city,” C.K. Mishra, secretary of the ministry of environment, was reported as saying by Mint.

At a time when the rest of the world is stepping up its efforts to go green for the sake of sustainability, the NCAP delivers a starting point and tentative target for India to participate in the global efforts.

Its collaborative, cross-sectoral, and multi-scale structure will ensure some of the goals are actually realised, as opposed to the previous draft of the bill which had not outlined actionable intervention, nor accounted for the inadequate enforcement of existing industrial standards, the unchecked growth of vehicular pollution and emissions by old and inefficient thermal power plants. However, several activists have criticised the government for not making the NCAP a legally binding document. Now it remains to be seen if the norms will be implemented without legal backing, or whether the NCAP will be just another intellectual exercise.

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius

Air PollutionNCAPsmart cities