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National Clean Air Program: Key Features, Challenges

The Government of India launched the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) to curtail air pollution in January 2019.

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A five-year National Clean Air Programme plan was launched by the Government in January 2019 with set targets to decrease PM2.5 and PM10 by 20-30 per cent with 2017 as the base year.  

How much budget is involved? Is it enough? 

The program was proposed by the centre to work in collaboration with the state governments, local bodies and other stakeholders. A grant of 300 crores is kept for initial two years for the programme.  

There are speculations that the budget may not be enough. Anumita Roy Choudhury, Executive Director Research and Advocacy at Centre for Science and Environment,  says, “This financial support is meant for setting up of air quality monitoring stations, carrying out source apportionment and inventory studies and provide implements for dust control. But NCAP requires stronger and long terms fiscal strategy to provide for innovative financing mechanism at both central and state/city level to allow a higher level of ambition for pollution reduction and also more broad based multi-sector action.” It is indeed true that there is no point in setting up a layout if there are no proper systems to enforce it. “Without a strong and long terms funding strategy NCAP will become a simple wishlist and a statement of intent,” added Choudhury.  

Costs of environmental neglect 

Despite warnings and still prevalent denial to notice that environmental pollution comes at huge costs. A study by the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, found that air pollution costs Mumbai and Delhi $10.66 billion (approximately Rs 70,000 crore) in 2015, or about 0.71 per cent of the country's GDP. As per the Greenpeace report, 3 per cent GDP is lost due to air pollution because of loss of productivity, forced closure of schools and industries, etc. Dipankar Saha, Former Additional Director at CPCB, says, “There is no doubt that workforce loss is loss of economy due to hospitalization are directly linked with GDP, that’s why Government is investing money for the control of air pollution and safeguard the health of citizens.” Bharti Singhla, Chief Operating Officer at Chakr Innovation, says, “Economic value should not be the sole determinant. It is well-identified that one in eight deaths can be attributed to air pollution in India, based on a study.” It is not until the day, which has surely come, that people realize that there are serious consequences of neglecting environmental pollution nothing would change.  

Where is it being enacted? 

The government has included 102 Non-Attainment Cities (NAC) as centers of focus for the NCAP. However, the question is that just increasing the scope of application will be of any help? Kirk R. Smith, Director of Collaborative Clean Air Policy Centre, says, “Getting the system boundaries right is extremely important for effective control. Monitoring and management need to be done in regions close to nature’s boundaries as air pollution pays no attention to political boundaries, e.g. cities.” This actually makes concrete sense because air pollution is not peculiar to cities, mostly it comes from the villages nearby. Smith says, “The US, Europe, and recently, China have recognized this issue, but not yet India.” So, if that be the case then are those cities chosen in NAC could not be helped or should the government have chosen differently or widely even? Smith replies, “There is a need to establish air quality control districts. For focusing on the NCR region 85 per cent of air pollution is controlled but for others, it does not make sense.”  

How is it being undertaken? 

Cities have already prepared action plans in consultation with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). If we talk at international standards, China’s first five-year air pollution action plan implemented in 2013 saw a 33 per cent fall PM2.5 in 74 cities. However, to be noted is that Beijing has a multi-tier accountability mechanism for proper facilitation of the program. Saha says, “The concerned SPCBs and PCCs have already prepared comprehensive program along with time-bound implementation strategy and timeline with baseline information and gap analyses have been completed.” “Stakeholder’s responsibilities have been defined and expert consultative teams have been prepared for each State and UT.” 

Applicability in concern

A crucial thing to point out let’s say the program has been well laid out and finances are in order, what keeps them from taking the program to its successful end. There is no proposal to notify this plan under any act. Concerned people have pointed out that the program has no legal binding. Choudhury says, “This is a right step forward but it has to adopt strong compliance to enforce this mandate and to ensure inter-ministerial and inter-departmental coordination for multi-sectoral interventions to be able to meet the targets.”  

Many efforts by the government have helped in mitigating the pollution. Smith says, “About 30 per cent of all outdoor air pollution in the country. Thus, the PMUY program, which will reach 80 million LPG connections among poor households in Sep, actually has a serious impact on outdoor pollution.” But the PMUY is not part of the NCAP programme and the question arises if there are any direct measures taken in the NCAP programme that would have an impact? “Unfortunately, the NCAP does not recognize the value of working even harder on cleaning up households, something with many benefits not just those to outdoor air quality”, says Smith. The actions taken by the centre should be one-sided in order for the best outcome of the programme. Choudhury stated, “NCAP should not just become only a top-down prescriptive approach but enable within the federal structure more room for tighter action in states that can be even stronger than the common minimum national programme as defined by NCAP.” 

The government should also include private parties in collaboration to mitigate environmental concerns. Changes require proper recording of data of the variables in the atmosphere. Nita Soans, CEO of Kaiterra India, says, “The goal of reducing PM2.5 and PM10 pollution by 20-30 per cent requires dense high-quality air quality information that can help identify hidden local patterns in the data.” She added, “Even under the NACP, the number of regulatory grade air pollution monitoring systems will not give a sufficiently dense reading for which Government can take of help third parties like Kaiterra.” The government should also come out and look for innovative ways to tackle this. Singhla stated, “Companies like us need to keep coming up with cost-effective ways to solve the problem of pollution. The government can aid by ensuring that technical solutions are included as a part of the plan and adoption is encouraged.”

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