National Clean Air Programme (NCAP)

Context: National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) launched by the government to tackle the increasing air pollution problem across the country.

Objective: Overall objective of the NCAP is comprehensive mitigation actions for prevention, control and abatement of air pollution besides augmenting the air quality monitoring network across the country and strengthening the awareness and capacity building activities.

NCAP is the first ever effort in the country to frame a national framework for air quality management with a time-bound reduction target.NCAP’s focus on ‘city based plans’ is a shift from earlier air pollution mitigation schemes which were based on national strategies. Also air pollution impact on health will be included in making plans, which is a novel feature of the scheme.

Need of NCAP:

  • In 2018, fourteen Indian citieswere among world’s 20 most polluted, according to WorldHealth Organization (WHO) data.
  • In 2017, air pollution accounted for 12.4 lakh deaths in India and average life expectancy in India would have been 1.7 years higher if air pollution levels were contained within safe limits, as per Indian Council for Medical Research report.
  • In recent years, medium and small towns and cities have witnessed spurt in pollution thus getting fast reflected in the 102 non-attainment cities of India.
  • Since air pollution isnot a localized phenomenon, the effect is felt in cities and towns far away from the source which creates the need of inter-state and inert-city coordination in addition to multi-sectoral synchronization.
  • Recent policy interventions have shown minor improvement in air quality in some major cities but there is a need of higher level and focused time bound initiatives at both city and rural level to address the issue in comprehensive manner at national level.

Features of the scheme:

  • Target:NCAP is a five-year action plan with 2019 as the first year. It aims at 20%–30% reduction of PM5and PM10 concentration by 2024, taking 2017 as the base year for the comparison of concentration.
  • Coverage: It targets 102 non-attainment cities.
  • City specific action plans are being formulated for 102 non-attainment cities, guided by a comprehensive science-based approach involving source apportionment studies.(A non-attainment city is considered to have air quality worse than the National Ambient Air Quality Standards).
  • Smart Cities program will be used for implementing the plan in 43 Smart cities included in a total 102 cities.
  • Institutionalisation:The NCAP will be institutionalized by respective ministries:
  • At the Centre, Apex Committee at the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change and at the State level, Chief Secretary Level Committee will be constituted.
  • Implementation mechanism: Following will be constituted for effective implementation:
  • Sectoral working groups, national level Project Monitoring Unit and Project Implementation Unit.
  • State level project monitoring unit
  • City level review committee under the Municipal Commissioner and DM level Committee in the Districts.
  • Existing programmes of government, in reference to climate change, including the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) will be dovetailed while executing NCAP.
  • Monitoring: Number of monitoring stations in the country will be increased including rural monitoring stations, technology support, emphasis on awareness and capacity building initiatives and trained manpower and regular inspection drives will be initiated.
  • Collaboration between various levels of governments and civil society: The approach for NCAP includes coordination between:
  • Relevant central ministries among themselves like Ministries of Road Transport and Highway, Petroleum and Natural Gas, New and Renewable Energy, NITI Aayog, CPCB and experts from the industry and civil society etc.
  • Centre and state governments and local bodies.
  • Partnershipwith international organizations, and leading technical and research institutions.

The NCAP is afflicted with following shortfalls:

  • Absence of legal backing:NCAP is a scheme, not a “legally binding” documentas it specifies no action against non-implementation, which might dilute the effectiveness of the plan.
  • Lack of specific targets:The plan envisages an overall 5-year national target along with implementation mechanisms, but lacks sector wise sub-targets and city wise targets to be achieved in 102 cities.
  • Ill-specified targets: A national reduction of 20-30% will still leave many Indian cities still heavily polluted. Delhi’s very severe pollution levels are four times the permissible limits now, and a 30% reduction by 2024 would still leave it very dangerous for health.
  • Insufficient funding pattern: The plan lacks clarity on the source of funding and the amount set aside for the plan is also meager Rs300 crore for two years.
  • Compartmentalizing rural-urban areas: Scheme focuses air pollution mitigation within cities while ignores rural air pollution thus compartmentalizing both. But cities like Delhi are significantly affected by rural air pollution, hence making purely city based efforts less ineffective.
  • Rural air pollution neglected: Based on wrong presumption that rural areas are pollution free, the scheme ignores the prevalence of indoor air pollution and the fact that some rural areas are more polluted than cities.

Steps that could be taken to make the plan more effective:

  • Legal backing:The scheme must be notified under the Environment Protection Act or any other Act to create a firm mandate with a strong legal back up for cities and states for time bound implementation and ensuring inter-ministerial coordination for multi-sectoral interventions and convergence.
  • Broad-based financing:NCAP will require long-term financing commitment and support which can be availed through innovative steps like ‘polluter pay’ based taxation mechanism etc.
  • Objective targets for cities: Municipal governments should submit their own specific plans to state governments for fixing accountability. City-wise air quality targets will clearly show where much deeper cuts will be needed for hotspot and stronger regional action.
  • Capacity building of local governments:Local governments lack the required technical expertise hence NCAP may sensitise cities about the scale and strictness of action with detailed pathways for clean energy and mobility transition, waste and dust management etc.
  • Health impact of air pollution: Though NCAP has recommended support for studies on health and economic impact of air pollution. But NCAP must mandatorily commitintegration of health impact with decision making and implementation plans.

Beijing has succeeded in reducing PM2.5 by 33.3 per cent in five years. But this was achieved with strong multi-tiered accountability system, under which various levels of government could be held legally accountable for shirking responsibilities. Hence, NCAP must adopt binding air quality targets with an effective accountability framework and zero tolerance for air pollution related health emergency.

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