Union environment minister Harsh Vardhan, on January 10, 2019, launched the much-awaited National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) to improve air quality by 20 to 30 per cent in next five years, with 2017 as the base year. While the minister maintained that the plan will not be legally binding, he said besides reducing air pollution concentration, pollution monitoring networks will be enhanced and activities will be put in place, to improve awareness.
“Collaborative and participatory approach involving relevant central ministries, state governments, local bodies and other stakeholders, with focus on all sources of pollution, forms the crux of the programme. Though the plan will be collaborative and participatory in nature, it will not be legally binding on states. We will also utilise the Smart Cities Mission, to launch the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) in 43 of the 102 non-attainment cities, which did not meet the annual PM 2.5 and PM 10 national standard, from 2011 to 2015,” Vardhan said at the launch.
“An amount of Rs 300 crores has been sanctioned by the Ministry of Finance, for the purpose. Taking into account the available international experience and national studies, the tentative national level target of 20 to 30 per cent reduction of PM 2.5 and PM 10 concentration by 2024, is proposed under the NCAP. This is keeping 2017 as the base year for the comparison of the concentration,” he said. While particulate matter (PM) 2.5 refers to particles in air with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres, PM10 refers to particles in the air with a diameter of less than 10 micrometres.
The NCAP will be a mid-term, five-year action plan, with 2019 as the first year. “However, the international experience and national studies indicate that significant outcome, in terms of air pollution initiatives, are visible only in the long-term and hence, the programme may be further extended to a longer time horizon, after a mid-term review of the outcomes,” the environment minister said.
NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant termed the plan a ‘critical initiative, which will not only push for accountability in city administration but also improve public participation in tackling the pollution crisis’. “Today, cities occupy just three per cent of the land but contribute to 82 per cent of GDP and are responsible for 78 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions. The cities, though, are engines of growth and equity but they have to be sustainable and it is in this context that the NCAP, being a very inclusive program, holds special relevance,” he said.
The NCAP has proposed multiple strategies to combat air pollution in the 102 most-polluting cities in the country. “City-specific action plans are being formulated for 102 non-attainment cities, identified for implementing mitigation actions under the NCAP. The cities have already prepared action plans, in consultation with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). However, this does not imply that cities other than these 102 will not take any measures in this regard,” environment secretary CK Mishra said.
The NCAP will be operationalised through inter-sectoral groups, which include ministries of road transport and highways, petroleum and natural gas, renewable energy and housing and urban affairs, among others. The institutional framework will comprise an apex committee under the Environment Ministry and a committee at the chief secretary level in the states.
“Other features of the NCAP include increasing the number of monitoring stations in the country, including rural monitoring stations, technology support, emphasis on awareness and capacity building initiatives, setting up of certification agencies for monitoring equipment, source apportionment studies, emphasis on enforcement and specific sectoral interventions,” Mishra said.
With an aim of bringing a time-bound national level strategy for pan-India implementation, to tackle increasing air pollution problem across the country in a comprehensive manner, the Environment Ministry had, in 2018, put up the draft NCAP on its website and invited comments from various stakeholders. The draft plan had invited criticism from green bodies, which claimed that it lacked the government’s earlier set target of bringing down air pollution by 50 per cent in five years. With a massive haze of dust enveloping Delhi and the pollution levels dropping to ‘severe’ category, the green bodies had also urged the government to roll out the plan as soon as possible.