New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has launched a five-year action plan to tackle pollution across the country. According to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) will tackle “one of the biggest global environmental challenges” in a time-bound manner.
Union minister Harsh Vardhan said on Thursday that the government had taken inputs from different stakeholders. “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,” the minister said.
Based on safe PM2.5 and PM10 levels as set out by national and international studies, the NCAP will attempt to reduce these levels in the country by 20-30%.
Amitabh Kant, the CEO of NITI Aayog, called the initiative “path-breaking”.
“Today cities occupy just 3% of the land, but contribute to 82% of GDP and 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.
Depending on results, the programme may be extended beyond five years, the government said. The project has a budget of Rs 300 crore for the first two years. “The programme will partner with multilateral and bilateral international organisations, and philanthropic foundations and leading technical institutions to achieve its outcomes,” the government said.
The plan is focusing on 102 “non-attainment” cities in India, including 42 cities that come under the Smart Cities programme. These 102 cities were identified by the Central Pollution Control Board based on their air pollution levels between 2011 and 2015, as they consistently showed pollution levels below the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
The government will also increase the number of air quality monitoring centres across the country, according to the plan.
The draft NCAP was released in April 2018. At the time, it was criticised for not laying down any tangible goals. Through the year, experts argued that the plan document was being diluted further.
“The draft’s focus remains primarily on strengthening monitoring and assessment of pollution, which is a worthy goal. However, it does little to account for the inadequate enforcement of existing industrial standards, the unchecked growth of vehicular pollution and emissions by old and inefficient thermal power plants. It is not clear why the plan doesn’t outline actionable interventions where more than enough data exists to clearly define the problem,” Sanjana Manaktala and Abhinav Verma wrote in The Wire.
Air pollution in India is now widely discussed, usually with reference to the capital city, New Delhi. However, as The Wire has reported earlier, the problem is far more widespread. According to a report released by the World Health Organisation in May 2018, in the list of the 15 most polluted cities in the world, 14 are in India.