The Union government has brought out a concept note on its planned National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), and has invited public feedback on it. There is no doubt that India, given its federal structure, urgently needs a framework for coordinated action on air pollution. The NCAP concept note, thus, rightly sets meeting “annual average air quality standards” across all identified locations within a fixed timeframe as its goal. Given the wide spectrum of sources of air pollution, that vary from city to city, it calls for city-specific action plans from all 100 “non-attainment” (read polluted) cities. While it talks of how recent measures, such as notification of sector-specific emission standards, leap-frogging from BSIV to BSVI standards for automobiles, have helped, the government also states that the resulting improvement in air quality is far from adequate and that NCAP aims to bridge the gaps that exist despite these steps.
It prescribes a thorough framework for improving air quality that includes revamping existing monitoring infrastructure, identifying technological alternatives, etc. Also, an Air Information Centre that will analyse data and an Air Quality Forecasting system have been proposed. A national-level emission inventory is also at the core of the strategy. To better understand—and hence respond more effectively—pollution’s effect on human health, a high-level committee and working group has been constituted under the aegis of Indian Council of Medical Research and the environment ministry.
However, given NCAP’s design, much of the onus will lie with the states. To that end, how much of the required coordinated action between states will be achieved, remains a big question. NCAP also falls short in not having announced emission reduction targets of any kind though it makes a mention of it—interestingly, the draft concept note from March had set a 35% reduction goal for the first three years and a 50% reduction goal in the next five years, as a Down To Earth report points out. City-level action plans give a certain granularity to the vision of breathable air in urban India, but whether this vision is realised depends on how the Centre is able to get the states to act.