The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) finally released a concept note on the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP).
The concept note acknowledges that while recent policy interventions like notification of sector-specific emission standards, augmentation of air quality monitoring network, banning the burning of biomass and leapfrogging from BSIV to BSVI for vehicles by April 1, 2020, have resulted in marginal improvements in air quality levels, the need for time-bound initiatives at both city and rural level are absolutely essential to combat the problem of air pollution in our country holistically, thus substantiating the need for the NCAP.
The intended goal of the programme is to meet the “annual average air quality standards at all locations in the country in a stipulated timeframe”. In order to achieve this, all the 100 non-attainment cities would have to design city-specific action plans with specific timelines for implementation of listed initiatives.
Objective of NCAP
The NCAP aspires to overcome the deficits of the ongoing government initiatives targeted towards air pollution control. It lays down a comprehensive strategy framework for enhanced management of air quality. Augmentation of existing air quality monitoring network by increasing number of existing manual and continuous monitoring stations, introducing rural monitoring stations, identifying alternative technology for real-time monitoring network and augmenting capabilities of existing monitoring stations to measure PM2.5 concentration, are integral components of the strategic framework.
Devising air quality management plans for 100 non-attainment cities calls for detailed source apportionment (identification of pollution sources) studies for each city. The document stresses the need for taking up these studies in a phased manner. In addition to setting up of an Air Information Centre that would analyse and disseminate monitored data, an Air Quality Forecasting system is also being envisioned. In addition to city-specific source apportionment studies, the NCAP lays down the need for a national-level emission inventory. A technology assessment cell for evaluation of new pollution prevention and control technologies has also been proposed.
The document highlights lack of indigenous studies establishing the correlation between exposure to air pollution and human health. A high-level apex committee and working group have, therefore, been constituted under the Indian Council of Medical Research and the MoEF&CC to overcome this deficit.
The NCAP certainly has lofty aspirations for formalizing an air quality management system in our country backed by science, technology and data. A budget amounting to Rs 637 crore has been set aside for aiding implementation of the programme. The document lays down specific targets and timelines for each initiative listed under the programme.
Concept note has no mention of emission reduction targets
What is interesting to note is that while the document mentions emission reduction targets, nowhere does it actually quantify these targets. However, the draft concept note for NCAP released earlier in March, which included the minutes of the meeting held on September 5, 2017, clearly listed specific targets to reduce 35 percent pollution levels in the next three years and 50 percent pollution levels in the next five years. These targets don’t find a mention in the concept note.
It will be interesting to observe whether NCAP’s well-intended and ambitious initiatives without quantified targets would result in significant impact or not. The merit of backing action planning with city-specific data cannot be discounted, but, generating data on source contribution and preparing city-level emission inventories is a continuous and time-consuming process that should not delay the clean air action planning process.