Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Dr Harsh Vardhan on Thursday launched the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) aiming to reduce toxic particulate matter by 2024, taking 2017 as the base year.
With 2019 as its first year, the NCAP is a mid-term, five-year action plan that includes collaborative, multi-scale and cross-sectoral coordination between relevant Central ministries, state governments and local bodies.
Secretary to the Environment Ministry C.K. Mishra told media that the programme may be further extended after reviewing mid-term results.
"International experience and national studies indicate that significant outcome in terms of air pollution initiatives are visible only in the long-term, and hence the programme may be further extended to a longer time horizon after a mid-term review of the outcomes," he said.
Dr Harsh Vardhan said: "The overall objective of the NCAP includes 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."
The Environment Ministry has announced a budget of Rs 300 crore for two years to tackle air pollution across 102 cities, which have been identified by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for not meeting the pollution standards set by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
City-specific action plans are being formulated for 102 non-attainment cities identified for implementing mitigation actions under NCAP.
The Smart Cities program will be used to launch the NCAP in the 43 smart cities falling in the list of the 102 non-attainment cities.
"The NCAP is envisaged to be dynamic and will continue to evolve based on the additional scientific and technical information as they emerge," the Environment minister said.
The programme, he said, will be institutionalized by respective ministries and will be organized through inter-sectoral groups, which include, Ministry of Road Transport and Highway, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Ministry of Heavy Industry, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Health, NITI Aayog, CPCB, experts from the industry, academia, and civil society.
NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant, who was also present at the launch, said NCAP is a path-breaking initiative as it addresses an alarming challenge of urbanization i.e. air pollution.
"Today, cities occupy just 3 per cent of the land, contribute to 82 per cent of GDP but are responsible for 78 per cent of Carbon dioxide emissions. Cities though are engines of growth and equity, have to be sustainable and it is in this context that NCAP holds special relevance," he said.
Vardhan's office in a release said cities have already prepared action plans in consultation with the CPCB.
"Institutional framework at Centre and state-level comprising the apex committee at the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change in the Centre and at Chief Secretary Level in states are to be constituted," it said.
In addition, the release said, sectoral working groups, national level Project Monitoring Unit, Project Implementation Unit, state level project monitoring unit, city level review committee under the Municipal Commissioner and DM level Committee in the Districts are to be constituted under NCAP for effective implementation and success of the Programme.
Other features of NCAP include, increasing number of monitoring stations in the country including rural monitoring stations, technology support, emphasis on awareness and capacity building initiatives, setting up of certification agencies for monitoring equipment, source apportionment studies, emphasis on enforcement, and specific sectoral interventions.
Meanwhile, experts from across the country have hailed the Union environment ministry's decision but did not forget to mention that the government needs to be serious in its implementation to see results.
"It is good to see the final version of NCAP out after a long wait with the vision of reducing air pollution levels across the country. We hoped it would be much stronger in providing sector-wise targets, targets for cities and mentioned strong legal backing to take action against non-implementation," said Sunil Dahiya, Senior Campaigner, Greenpeace India.
Ashutosh Dikshit, CEO of the United Residents Joint Action said: "The NCAP comes in a series of several such plans. Welcome as it is, it will remain an intellectual exercise if steps are not taken to implement it. The public needs to see demonstrable intent from the government which is so far missing."
Another expert pointed out that the NCAP is not legally binding and that there might not be any serious consequence of not following the programme.