Combatting Particulate Matter pollution - The National Clean Air Program

Air pollution is one of the most serious issues that most urbanites are currently facing. The National Clean Air Program is one major initiative that has recently been undertaken to tackle this problem. The progress of this program and the problems surrounding it are the major focus of this article.

Cities take the plunge

In January, this year, a list of 102 cities was released. These were the cities which were the most polluted in terms of Particulate Matter (PM) concentration. As part of the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), these cities were supposed to formulate plans to reduce PM concentration by the year 2024.

It was just yesterday when the Central Ministry's Spokesperson confirmed that 84 out of 102 cities had submitted their time-bound proposals to reduce the concentration of PM by 20% to 30%. The 2017 average annual PM level was to be the base level for the calculation of PM. The steps included increasing the number of monitoring stations, increasing tech support for pollution-reducing technologies, conducting source apportionment studies (i.e. finding out which sources contribute how much to air pollution) and also strengthening the enforcement of existing rules and regulations.

This was, without doubt, a step in the right direction. When the National Clean Air Programme was announced, it was felt that there were no clear cut provisions to force cities to take action and that the program relied more on the will of the cities to participate. There were doubts as to whether cities would actually collaborate on their own. That many of them have come forward of their own is a good omen.

What is PM?

Among the various air pollutants, one of the most dangerous is PM or Particulate Matter, the one that the NCAP wants to get rid of. PM includes microscopic solid or liquid particles which are suspended in the air. While watching any report on air pollution, you might have noticed the words PM10 and PM2.5. The numbers accompanying PM indicate the size of the particulate matter. PM10 particles are 10 micrometers or smaller while PM2.5 particles are 2.5 micrometers or smaller. The incredibly small size of PM2.5 makes it particularly dangerous as it is able to penetrate deep into our lungs and even into our bloodstream. These smaller particles cause heart attacks, respiratory diseases and even DNA mutation. It is interesting to see that although PM is also produced naturally (volcanoes, sea salt sprays) it is the artificial emission of PM which we have to be wary about. Vehicular emission, stubble burning (Delhiites have to worry about this one the most), and emissions from power plants are the sources which are majorly responsible for the production of PM.

What NCAP could have done better

The NCAP is one of the major policy initiatives to combat the menace of PM and it couldn't have come at a better time. But nevertheless, there are plenty of scopes to improve the NCAP. The biggest problem is that of funding. In order to support the transition to lesser polluting systems, money is essential. However, the NCAP has only received a pittance of Rs. 300 cr. It is not even clear if this 300 cr is one-off support or there will be future funding into this program or not. The funding could have been done a bit more creatively as well. There could have been some provisions to use the principle of 'polluter pays' in the context of PM reduction (as has already been done in Delhi) to generate more funds.

What the NCAP has done well is that it has allowed cities to formulate their own plans. This would help in formulating strategies for each city keeping in mind the particular factors of each city. However, there could have been some provisions to ensure accountability at various levels. While working on a program like this, it is inevitable that numerous agencies and departments would have to work together. What would be the specific division of work and responsibilities of each department and how would they coordinate their work among each other? If the NCAP contained more specific answers to such questions then this plan would have definitely been better.


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