Nearly 50 percent of the top most polluted 30 cities are in India. Delhi is more known as world’s capital of air-pollution than political capital of India. Out of the 7 million deaths that take place globally, as per WHO, due to outdoor and indoor pollution, nearly 1.25 million deaths ( 2017) take place in India.

There is striking similarity between Paris Climate Agreement and India’s National Clean Air Programme launched recently. Paris Agreement is an agreement by the countries to map a global action to keep global warming 2 deg C below pre-industrial level. It utterly lacks teeth to deal with issues , among others, non-compliance and the essential need for finance and technology transfer for achieving that target. Volunteerism is the undercurrent on which the shaky edifice of Paris Agreement rests.

India’s NCAP is a similar story. It is a plan to make a plan to keep the air quality that meets the norms of WHO. While Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change-MOEFCC- deserves all the appreciation and encouragement to get going on the job, though quite late and definitely 5 years behind the schedule of another polluted country, China. Non-recognition of the nation-wide threat seems to be the undercurrent on which this well intended and much needed national programme rests.

To be fair, the anti-pollution measures have already begun in India over last decade, though in pieces and through jerks mainly in setting air quality and vehicle emissions standards, national air quality monitoring programme and indices, fuel quality norms etc.

Even after 42 measures issued earlier by CPCB ( Central Pollution Control Board) and graded response action plan that addresses the seasonal and level of severity for Delhi and other cities, the air pollution remains a national challenge of Himalayan proportion.

The only major action that has been effective in providing the immediate benefits is extraordinary and accelerated level of penetration of LPG-use in the household and in public transport like buses and auto-rikshas ( three wheelers). Energy efficiency measures through use of LED bulbs, efficient fans, refrigerators and air conditioners have helped in reducing the consumption of fossil fuel in generating extra electricity and the air pollution . Credit certainly goes to present government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Supreme Court and Green Tribunal. Sadly, India still remains on top of the list of the countries where majority of the mega cities have air quality which is 100s of times worst than the norms of WHO.

Nearly 50 percent of the top most polluted 30 cities are in India. Delhi is more known as world’s capital of air-pollution than political capital of India. Out of the 7 million deaths that take place globally, as per WHO, due to outdoor and indoor pollution, nearly 1.25 million deaths ( 2017) take place in India. 51 percent of these deaths were of people younger than 70. More than 4 decades of the efforts on ‘Smokeless Chulha’ first by the government and then by the mushrooming national and international NGOs, the deaths in 2017 due to indoor pollution caused by the burning of the solid fuel in cooking stoves stands at half a million, as per one report. That’s in the country where clean environment and pollution free air and water is constitutionally mandated.

India’s efforts at the highest level really started more than 4 decades back when The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, was enacted under Art. 253 of the Indian Constitution to enhance well- being of its citizens which is now deep rooted in India’s development philosophy and strategy.

106 pages of NCAP with nearly 63 pages of substantive text and rest containing broad strategies and annexes represent at best, the good intention and structured way to move forward. The document however, grossly overlooks the nation-wide emergency and drastic measures needed to redress the grim , dangerous and fast deteriorating situation. The country where emergency measures are not unfamiliar, one wonders why NCAP sounds like any other plan that embodies the elephantine speed.

The goal of the NCAP is to meet the prescribed annual average ambient air quality standards at all locations in the country in a stipulated timeframe . It well recognises that internationally, the successful actions had been city specific rather than country-wide. It also recognises that 35%–40% reduction of pollutants in five years for cities, such as Beijing and Seoul, particularly in regards to particulate matters ( PM 2.5 and PM 10) concentrations. Hence target of 20%–30% reduction in such concentration by 2024 is proposed under the NCAP, ( 2017 as base year).

Recognising PM Modi’s proclamation that 21st century is going to be India’s century, it is not clear why the target in NCAP is lower than what is achieved in Beijing and Seoul. If India takes a top place in GDP growth globally, why we have such lower targets in meeting air quality over five years, particularly considering the fact that it is the 65 percent of India’s young population would be the main victims of the worsening air quality.

The weaker target of NCAP is made further shaky by the leaving the exercise of developing implementation plans to 102 ‘ non-attainment’ cities ( where national air quality index is violated). The ‘action points’ in source-sectors like vehicle, construction, industry, power generation, waste-burning and agri-bio-mass burning are indicated for consideration and inclusion in the plans of the cities. The cities would have to engage now in massive exercise to prepare implementation plans by collaborating with neighbouring states dominated by power plant and agriculture emissions. They would have to deal with the ‘political pollution’ before tackling air pollution as it is happening in cross boundary water-issues.

NCAP , however , dwells well in suggesting use of modern IT technologies , for monitoring, reporting, institutional strengthening, capacity building and creating technology cells. Indeed, AI, IoT, big data and cloud networking are the very tools that prepares India to be ambitious in its targets and confident in the implementation. The engagement of the private sectors , not only those contributing to the pollution, but also the service industry like IT , would be important along with international collaboration.

Air pollution in India is now national security issue. It needs as much attention and budget provision as discussion and sense of urgency in the procurement of the defence equipment. END.

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