May 30, 2024

General Studies Paper -3

Context: The National Clean Air Programme missed the 2024 target to push back pollution.

What is the NCAP?

  • It was launched by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in January 2019 as a comprehensive initiative in partnership with various Ministries and States to improve air quality at city, regional and national level.
  • It aims to improve air quality in 131 cities (non-attainment cities and Million Plus Cities) in 24 States by engaging all stakeholders.
  • Features : Under NCAP, cities continuously violating annual PM levels in India need to prepare and implement annual Clean Air Action Plans (CAAPs).
    • To facilitate this, the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change has allocated ₹10,422.73 crore.
    • NCAP envisages reduction by 20-30% in PM 10 concentration over baseline in 2017 by 2024.
      • Target has been revised to achieve reduction in PM10 level up to 40% or achievement of national standards (60 µg/m3) by 2025-26.

Issues and Concerns

  • Most cities proactively submitted their Clean Air Action Plans(CAAPs) yet their implementation has been inconsistent.
    • On average, only 60% of the allocated funds have been used thus far, according to the Ministry, with 27% of cities spending less than 30% of their designated budgets.
  • Implementation delays hinder NCAP’s success, particularly delays in approvals from the competent authorities (for example, the technical specification of tendering processes or for procuring products such as mechanical sweepers and electric buses).
  • There is also a lack of standard operating procedures for the implementation process.
  • Time-consuming tasks required to implement control measures and the absence of well-defined timelines create further delays.
  • Yet other reasons include bureaucratic red-tape and lingering doubts regarding the effectiveness of proposed mitigation measures.
  • Pollution from high-emitting industries and other sources outside city limits, carried into urban areas by winds complicates urban air-quality management.
  • According to the Portal for Regulation of Air-pollution in Non-Attainment cities, only 37% of cities have completed EI and SA studies, meaning the remaining 63% don’t have a clear idea about what is polluting their air.

Role of scientific tools

  • Emissions Inventory (EI) and Source Apportionment (SA) studies are critical to identify and understand the origins of pollution.
  • EIs provide insights into local pollution sources and their contributions, allowing experts to forecast future emissions based on demographic shifts and technological advancements across sectors, among other factors.
  • EIs also help shape targeted pollution control strategies.
  • They have their limitations, too, particularly in assessing the impact of transboundary pollution sources — such as when determining the effect of stubble-burning outside Delhi on the city’s air quality.
  • SA studies offer a detailed analysis of contributions from various pollution sources, including those located afar.
  • However, they aren’t suited for predictive analysis and require substantial resources, including specialised personnel and equipment for chemical analysis.
  • SA studies also can’t distinguish between the origins of pollution, like, say, emissions from diesel trucks 200 m away and 20 km away, because diesel emissions have similar chemical signatures.
  • These gaps can be bridged through AQ modelling, which informs our understanding of pollution dispersion, including from distant sources.

Conclusion and Way Forward

  • The cities should look into EI and SA data to pinpoint air pollutants and prepare mitigation measures targeting each polluting activity.
  • Based on the potential and infrastructure requirements, cities need to set proper yearly targets and fund them.
  • Many existing control measures focus only on primary PM emissions, neglecting their secondary precursors.
  • A shift towards comprehensive strategies addressing both primary and secondary pollutants is thus important.
  • Beyond the need for data and models, swift implementation on the ground is essential.
  • For this, implementation agencies should seek to reduce bureaucratic red tape by utilising shared, standardised technical evaluations.
  • As NCAP funding is linked with the performance of cities (based on the annual average PM concentration reduction), prior budgeting and time management play crucial roles.
  • Technical feasibility, budgeting, and time estimates need to be part of the initial plans.
  • The journey towards cleaner air in India, as charted by NCAP, will be difficult but is necessary.
  • NCAP’s success hinges on a multifaceted approach that combines rigorous scientific studies, strategic funds, and swift and effective implementation of mitigation measures.
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