India's clean air plan overlooks 231 polluted cities: Report

Air quality targets in National Clean Air Programme must be given proper legal status to make air in India breathable, it added

By Shagun
Published: Tuesday 21 January 2020

The National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) leaves out at least 231 cities or towns where people breathe air as polluted as the 102 cities notified under the plan, a report released on January 21, 2020, showed.

The study profiled 287 cities where air pollution stations had more than 52 days’ monitoring data. In more than 80 per cent, PM (Particulate Matter) exceeded 60 microgram per cubic metre (μg/m3) prescribed under National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

This implies that all these cities / towns belong to the non-attainment list but have not been added. The National Green tribunal (NGT) too had asked the CPCB to expand its list of such cities last year.

The cities identified under the NCAP are expected to reduce air pollution levels by 20-30 per cent by 2024 from 2017 levels. These cities were supposed to make their respective city action plans to combat air pollution.

The NCAP was launched in January 2019 by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change.

The report, released by Greenpeace, was fourth in a series of annual reports. It analysed the 2018 data compiled by CPCB from the National Air Quality Monitoring Programme (NAMP) network, which collects air quality data for 745 stations.

It also found that West Bengal, Punjab, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, and Odisha had 36, 21, 21, 20 and 15 number of non-attainment cities respectively. Only 7, 9, 18, 15, and 7 non-attainment cities were mentioned for these states in the NCAP and CPCB list submitted to NGT in August 2019.

“This still leaves major parts of these geographies where air quality is not being monitored; otherwise most of those would have also come under the non-attainment list,” the report said.

It analysed the state-wise number of cities that are non-attainment according to annual average PM levels. Surprisingly, Delhi placed in the tenth position. Two cities from Jharkhand — Jharia and Dhanbad — topped the list with 322 and 264 μg/m3 as their annual average PM concentrations.

Lunglei in Mizoram was the only city / town that had PM10 levels under the World Health Organization (WHO) prescribed limit of 20 μg/m3.

The report highlighted what many environment experts and organisations have pointed out since the launch of the NCAP: That it is not notified under any Act (Environment Protection Act or Air Act) and is only being seen as a guiding document.

“To make the NCAP effective in achieving breathable air quality across the country, the air quality targets and specific measures identified in the document must be given a proper legal status,” the report said.

“The experience of the GRAP (Graded Response Action Plan), CAP (Comprehensive Action Plan) for Delhi and emission standards for coal-based power plants show that implementation is a key challenge,” it added.

Moreover, the 20-30 per cent air pollution reduction target by 2024 will not lead to breathable air quality in the country, the report said. This is because pollution levels across much of India are so high that even a 30 per cent reduction will still leave levels above the NAAQS, not to mention the WHO standards. 

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