Cleaning India’s air: What is the report card so far?

Context: An analysis of various steps taken by the government in this regard shows that much more needs to be done.

What is the present situation wrt the problem of air pollution in India?

Some 22 of the 30 most polluted cities in the world are in India according to the World Air Quality Report, 2020.

The India State Level Disease Burden Initiative published in Lancet Planetary Health in December 2020, indicated 1.7 million deaths in India were attributable to air pollution in 2019.

Incidentally, India is the third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world — 2,597.36 million tonnes.

What are the various steps taken by the govt to address the issue?

The Union government launched a five-year National Clean Air Action Plan (NCAP) January 10, 2019, to tackle the increasing air pollution problem.

India has committed to reduce the emission intensity of its gross domestic product (GDP) by 33-35 per cent over 2005 levels under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

It has also pledged to generate 40% of its power capacity from non-fossil fuel sources and create an additional ‘carbon sink’ of 2.5-3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.

To lower India’s carbon footprint, coal-fired power plants not meeting prescribed standards would be shut down.

The Centre has launched the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid) and Electric Vehicles (FAME) I India scheme in 2015 to reduce pollution caused by diesel and petrol-operated vehicles and to promote electric and hybrid vehicles in India.

The FAME phase II scheme has been extended for two years to drive greater adoption of the scheme.

The Vehicle Scrappage Policy, launched August 13, 2021, is a government-funded programme to replace old vehicles with modern and new vehicles on Indian roads.

India’s PM, in August 2021, announced the enhancement of target to 20% for ethanol blending in petrol by 2025 in order to further lower carbon emissions and improve air quality.

In August 2021, the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021 were notified, which are aimed at phasing out single-use plastic by 2022.

The Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for plastic and e-waste management has been introduced.

The implementation of the Green India Mission (GIM) has been undertaken to increase green cover in India to the extent of five million hectares (mha) and improve the quality of existing green cover on another five mha.

What has been the outcome of these measures?

As a result of these initiatives,

96 cities showed a decreasing trend of PM10 concentration in 2020-21 as compared to 2019-20. However, 36 cities showed an increasing trend in PM10 concentration in 2020-21, as compared to 2019-20, according to the Economic Survey 2020-21.

– Marginal decrease in pollution levels in targeted cities three years into the launch of the NCAP, according to media reports. An analysis also showed that states spent insufficient funds to ensure air pollution reduction.

Not much progress on the closing down of thermal power plants not meeting permissible standards.

But, India’s third Biennial Update Reports submitted to the UNFCCC in 2021 reported that during 2005-16, the country had reduced emission intensity of its GDP by 24%.

India’s forests have increased by more than 1,500 sq km between 2019 and 2021.

What is the way forward?

It has been observed that the institutions engaged in regulatory functioning both at the Centre and state level lack capability in maintaining environmental regulation standards in large cities / urban centres. There is an urgent need to strengthen these agencies.

Research and development, recruitment of professionals having domain knowledge and provisioning of infrastructure are necessary where budget provisions need to be stepped up.

A roadmap on the closing down of inefficient coal-fired power plants needs to be developed in consultation with stakeholders.

The GIM has to be aggressively and effectively implemented throughout the states with quality planting materials.

The research activities into restoring biodiversity, conserving landscapes and preserving the natural balance of biodiversity across India will have to be encouraged.

Source: This post is based on the article “Cleaning India’s air: What is the report card so far?” published in Down to Earth (DTE) on 11th Apr 22.

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