Almost a month after the launch of a national programme for air pollution abatement, cities across India – home to 14 of the most polluted cities in the world – continued to breathe toxic air during the winter of 2018-’19.
Only Patiala, among 74 cities assessed by the Central Pollution Control Board, met the national safe air standards as on February 4, 2019.
On January 17, Ghaziabad, an industrial city bordering capital Delhi, reported a 24-hour average for toxic particulate matter 2.5 that was 14 times higher than World Health Organisation’s safe standard. The PM 2.5 average that day in Ghaziabad was six times higher than even India’s own, more lenient, safe-air standard. The national standard allows 2.4 times higher levels of particulate matter than WHO’s.
The air quality in the world’s most polluted city, Delhi – home to 20 million people – remained above safe limits almost all days this winter between November 2018 and the first week of January, IndiaSpend reported on January 17.
To fix this pollution crisis, the Indian government launched its first-ever national framework called National Clean Air Programme on January 10.
With a budget of Rs 300 crore for financial years 2018-19 and 2019-20 – about Rs 2.9 crore per city – the programme will focus on 102 polluted Indian cities. The plan is to bring the country’s overall annual pollution levels down by 20%-30% over the next five years to 2024. The plan counts 2017 as the base year.
The programme that envisages a national source inventory for air pollution will issue guidelines for indoor air pollution, expand air quality monitoring network in cities and in villages and conduct air pollution health impact studies.
National Clean Air Programme, however, is a flawed plan, because it lacks legal mandate, does not have clear timelines for its action plan and does not fix accountability for failure.
Twenty-eight of India’s 74 cities (about 38%) assessed on February 4 by the Central Pollution Control Board struggled to breathe that day. Cities such as Lucknow, Varanasi, Ujjain, Patna, Delhi, Kolkata, and Singrauli recorded “poor” and “very poor” air quality.
Another 35 cities, including Jaipur, Kalburgi, Jalandhar, Mumbai and Pune, suffered “moderately” polluted air.
Most of these cities, under the National Clean Air Programme, are expected to create their own plans to curb air pollution over the next five years. No city-level targets were announced in the National Clean Air Programme. But even if the cities were to reduce their pollution levels by the national target of 20%-30%, they will still not be breathing safe air.
Take for example the 14 cities that make it to the global worst list. Even after we make reductions in tune with the National Clean Air Programme’s national targets, none of them will meet national standards for PM 2.5 by 202.
Even after the targeted pollution cuts, the PM 2.5 levels in these 14 cities is likely to range 7-12 times over the WHO safe limit and 2-3 times over the national safe limit.
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