Tracing the Hazy Air : Progress Report on National Clean Air Programme (NCAP)

With India’s infamous air pollution levels gaining traction from the global press and local activists, the Centre, in January 2019, launched the country’s first National Clean Air Programme with an intent to improve the country’s air quality on a war footing. Goals were set on – key amongst them was to reduce PM2.5 levels by 20% to 30% by 2024 relative to 2017 levels in 132 cities. However, three years since the Program was announced, researchers at the Centre for Research and on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) in their report – “The Tracing the Hazy Air: Progress Report on National Clean Air Programme (NCAP)” reveal that progress has been scarce and shoddy.

The past two years have been unusual due to the COVID19 pandemic resulting in a halt for industrial and economic activities due to national and regional lockdowns, so a better indicator to track the effectiveness and implementation of NCAP was to track the progress on indicators identified under the programme.

The analysis presented in the report is based on information gathered through RTI applications, parliamentary proceedings, reports from other organisations, and publicly available data.

The report highlights that apart from city-specific action plans, no other plans have been formulated under NCAP prescribed timelines, state action plans, regional action plans, and the transboundary action plan still have to see the light of the day.

The report also highlights that at the end of three years since the programme’s launching,  out of the targeted 1500 manual monitoring stations to be installed across the country, only 818 are present today. This is up by just 115 stations from 703 in 2019. The progress is even more sluggish in equipping all manual stations with PM2.5 monitoring, where only 261 stations have PM2.5 monitoring facilities.

Furthermore, none of the 132 non-attainment cities has completed their carrying capacity studies. Carrying capacity is the region’s ability to accumulate and disperse emissions while maintaining breathable air quality. In 93 cities, the study is either undergoing or at the MoU/proposal stage.

The assessment also highlights that the financing under NCAP has discrepancies and lacks transparency in terms of allocation and utilisation of funds for meaningful actions to reduce the emission of air pollutants.

The report recommends that the NCAP be made legally binding on responsible authorities while setting interim (WHO interim targets) and long-term targets to achieve breathable air equivalent to WHO guideline levels over the next decade.

Other recommendations from the report include enhancing transparency in allocation and utilisation of finances and tracking the indicators through publicly available information under the PRANA web portal developed by CPCB.

[Press Release]

Shivansh Ghildiyal and Sunil Dahiya