Four years since the introduction of the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) — India’s first national policy on curbing air pollution — air quality has improved in only 49 out of 131 cities in FY 21-22, compared to the previous year, according to a report by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), on January 10.
Only 38 of the 131 cities that were given annual pollution reduction targets under agreements signed between State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs), Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) and the Centre managed to meet the targets for FY21-22, the report noted.
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The NCAP, announced four years ago, covers 132 of India’s most polluted or so-called non-attainment cities. This is defined as a city whose air quality did not meet the national ambient air quality standards of 2011 to 2015. The NCAP aims to bring a 20%-30% reduction in pollution levels from PM2.5 and PM10 particles by 2024, using 2017 pollution levels as a base.
For disbursing funds, the Central Pollution Control Board, which coordinates the programme, only considers levels of PM10, the relatively larger, coarser particles. However PM2.5, the smaller, more dangerous particles, aren’t monitored as robustly in all cities, mostly due to the lack of equipment.
Cities are required to quantify improvement starting 2020-21, which requires 15% and more reduction in the annual average PM10 concentration and a concurrent increase in “good air” days to at least 200. Anything fewer will be considered ‘low’ and the funding, provided by the Centre via the Environment Ministry, consequently reduced.
Moreover, only 37 out of 131 cities, CREA noted, have completed the source apportionment studies (which list out and quantify the major sources of pollution in a city) to be completed in 2020. “Almost all of these reports still lack public availability and no city action plan has been updated with new findings of the report as it was envisaged in the NCAP when it was launched in January 2019,” said an accompanying press release.
CREA estimates India will need to install more than 300 manual air quality monitoring stations per year to reach the NCAP goal of 1,500 monitoring stations by 2024. So far, only 180 stations were installed over the past four years. “India has an extensive network of ambient air quality monitoring stations installed by industries as stipulated through various regulations and environmental clearance process, we should make use of that infrastructure and use the data for air pollution regulation. Data from industries should be made public and integrated with government air ambient air quality monitoring, which will not only help increase public air quality data availability but will also enhance the accountability of the industries forcing them to operate the stations efficiently,” Sunil Dahiya, analyst, CREA said in a statement.