India Launches a National Clean Air Program

Credit: Press and Information Bureau, Government of India

Guest blog by Sayantan Sarkar

India’s recently released, much-anticipated National Clean Air Program (NCAP) provides a roadmap to prevent, control, and reduce unhealthy air pollution. Dr Harsh Vardhan, Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change launched the NCAP last week.  With the alarming air pollution levels across India the urgency of the plan is clear. India is severely affected by air pollution; it led to 1.24 million or 12.5% of the total deaths recorded in the country during 2017 alone.

The NCAP will expand the national air quality monitoring network, build capacity for air pollution management, and strengthen public awareness about the dangers of air pollution. It is a time-bound, national strategy to bring down levels of deadly particle air pollution (PM2.5 and PM10) by 20-30% by 2024 (compared to 2017 levels). Initially launched as a five-year action plan, the NCAP may be further extended after a mid-term review of the outcomes.

A cross-government effort

The NCAP underlines need for close collaboration and cross-sectoral coordination among central ministries, state governments and local bodies. The aims of the plan align with existing policies and programs, including the National Action Plan on Climate Change, initiatives on electric vehicles, the Smart Cities Mission among others.

Inter-sectoral groups including participation from 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, Central Pollution Control Board will be formed.

An Apex Committee at the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) at the national level, and at the Chief Secretary level in the States will be constituted to oversee implementation.

The NCAP also facilitates partnerships with multi and bilateral international organizations, philanthropic foundations, and leading technical institutions, experts from industry, academia, and civil society to accomplish its goals.

City and sector focus

The NCAP clearly brings much needed focus to city actions that can help the country achieve cleaner air. Under the NCAP, city-specific action plans will be developed for all 102 cities that exceed national air quality safeguards.

The Smart Cities Mission of the Indian Government will now also be leveraged to launch clean air programs for the 43 smart cities in the list of non-attainment cities.

Last month, NRDC and partners Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar, along with the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation and the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology organized a workshop to identify the role of cities in addressing air pollution to protect public health. Government representatives from cities including Ahmedabad, Pune, Mumbai, Nagpur, Navi Mumbai, West Bengal Pollution Control Board and Central Pollution Control Board took part and shared actions they are taking to curb air pollution.

Pollution specific interventions

The NCAP also provides specific sectoral interventions for mitigation actions for key sectors that are known to contribute to air pollution in many cities. These include re-suspended road dust control, construction and demolition related dust, power sector and industrial emissions, transport sector emissions, agricultural emissions, emissions from unsustainable waste management practices.

The NCAP has reportedly been allocated a budget of INR 300 crore/USD 42.6 million for the first two years. Experts have expressed concern with the budget of the program, deeming it too low to achieve substantial results across the country.

Re-suspended dust from roads is a source of air pollution in many Indian cities
Credit: IIPH-G

Implementation holds the key

The NCAP is a much-needed start that needs to be strengthened as the plan is implemented. The NCAP is the first time the government has put in place a time bound target for particulate matter reduction. The NCAP’s focus on coordinated city, state, and regional actions, evidence-based policy making, public outreach, and accountability is encouraging. Yet, while the NCAP touches upon many of the key issues that need to be addressed, the country’s air pollution challenge is complex and will require sustained, multi-sectoral approaches to be implemented over the long term. India cannot afford to delay action on air pollution; this program can help in streamlining actions by stakeholders towards the common goal of providing clean air to millions.

Sayantan Sarkar is a consultant and climate resilience expert based in New Delhi, India