In the plethora of global environmental challenges created by humans, air pollution has tossed cities, towns and living spaces into a repulsive peril. With roads and dwelling places filled with gusty clouds of raging black dust, several Indian cities rank among the most polluted cities in the world. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the combustion emissions in Indian cities recorded the highest from sources including coal-based power-plants, vehicles, household fuels and open burning of agricultural land.

The Launch of NCAP: 10-Jan-2019

The Modi Government has launched a five-year initiative called the National Clean Air Program (NCAP) to design and implement protocols that would allow cities to hold greater accountability for their pollution levels and to control these levels sustainably in the long term. According to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, NCAP aims to reduce air pollution that daunts the Indian subcontinent by 20-30% by 2024. NCAP caters to 102 non-attainment cities that are inclusive of 43 smart cities. The NCAP has been allocated a budget of Rupees 300 crores for the next 2 years.

Implementation of NCAP

Today, urban cities contribute to 78% of total carbon dioxide emissions within India. Non-attainment areas are those that have air quality worse than the National Ambient air quality standards and there are more than 100 such Indian cities that fall under the “non-attainment” category. NCAP compels several ministries of the Indian government to work hand-in-hand through inter-sectoral groups in order to accomplish this herculean task.

The ministries that must work in sync include the Ministry of Road Transport and Highway, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Ministry of Heavy Industry, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Health, NITI Aayog and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

The program interlinks with the National Action Plan for Climate Change (NAPCC) and other initiatives that draw support from the State governments. The program involves designing specific implementation-plans for respective cities in a periodic timeframe in accordance to graded response action plan (GRAP)  and the measure of Air Quality Index (AQI). With the help of certification agencies, NCAP plans to implement the program by establishing several monitoring stations in urban as well as rural areas.

What NCAP needs to fight?

According to the State of Global Air report of 2018, the years between 2010 and 2016 saw a steep increase in air pollution based on particulate matter. Ever since 2016, the central pollution control board (CPCB), the government of India and the state governments have taken several measures to curb air pollution.

Prominent measures such as those from the Delhi government and local municipalities include pollution checking by the transport department, phasing out old commercial vehicles and leaded petrol, introducing low sulfur diesel, employing an odd-even scheme for the movement of vehicles on the roads and installing commercial strength air purifiers. However, on the national front, most Indian cities are still facing a horrendous issue of air pollution with toxic levels that cause more than 12.4 lakh deaths in the country every year.

The launch of the NCAP is not merely a pilot study as it is proposed to be the real solution that aims to reduce air pollution by at least 20 to 30% in less than five years. NCAP needs to conduct and analyze several case studies with real-time air quality data obtained from several geographically diverse locations within India and deduce solutions for controlling air-pollution at both micro and macro levels.

New Delhi: The national capital

Here is a case study snippet of Air Quality data collected over a span of 6 months for New Delhi:

MonthAQI levels
August 2018155
September 2018149
October 2018171
November 2018436
December 2018366
January 2019453
Data obtained from the CPCB Air Quality Monitor

The sample data of Delhi reflects that the air quality is not uniform throughout the year. The data represents a recurrent pattern every year with a spike in pollution levels between September and November of every year. The months between November and January peak with the most dangerous levels of air quality with Pm levels between 400-500 units.

The Spike in Delhi’s pollution between September-January

The months between May and September are the primary months of paddy farming in Punjab. Post-September, the paddy straws are burnt to make room for the next sowing cycle. In the months between November and January of every year, crop residue burning (CRB) contributes to extremely high levels of Particulate Matter (PM) concentration in the immediate vicinity and as the statistics show Punjab’s immediate neighbor Delhi, is victimized by this perennial calamity. CRB also contributes to regional pollution with 12 to 60% of PM concentrations.

NCAP needs to gauge several cities

Several Indian cities are highly impacted by similar practices of CRB and combustion from both household and industrial sources. Indian cities and towns do not adhere to the ambient air quality standards set by the CPCB. Cities such as Bangalore, Calcutta have overwhelming vehicular pollution and the inadequate data about several cities and villages further complicates the formation of a concrete action plan.

Smaller cities such as the coastal port of Visakhapatnam are barely in the news for air pollution even though all of its residents wake up to dark layers of greasy coal dust on their tables every morning. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) and the CPCB have warned Visakhapatnam port to reduce coal dust by the end of 2018. The pollution measures taken by Pharma factories that are set up throughout India are not even scalable.

NCAP needs to work in several stages and ensure that it embeds technologically advanced equipment in order to create a systematic framework for analyzing, deducing and mitigating the problems of air quality.

How successful can NCAP prove to be?

The implementation of NCAP and its monitoring requires the right infrastructure, diligent management and immense co-operation between the center, states and local municipalities that operate within the statutory guidelines. Private sector companies within real estate and infrastructure development must be encouraged to construct and maintain greener buildings with zero or minimal carbon footprint.

Critiques could probably argue that 20% to 30% reduction in air pollution over a span of 5 years is realistically unachievable. However, in reality, every giant tree we take shade under has once grown from a tiny seedling. No step is too small if we are heading in the right direction with the will to ward off a catastrophe. It would be interesting to see how far the ruling government will go to achieve the desired objectives in the long term.

Sources: CPCB, TOI, DownToEarth, HT, The News Minute

Image credit: The Wire, CPCB

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