Recently, at a hearing, the Apex Court gave the Centre and Delhi government 24 hours deadline to come out with suggestions to control air pollution.
- According to research by UNEP, Air pollution kills 7 million people a year, more than COVID-19.
- Across the globe, nine out of 10 people are breathing unclear air, and ultimately around 7 million people die every year from diseases and infections related to air pollution.
- Around the world, more than 90 per cent of people breathe in air that the World Health Organization considers potentially harmful.
- In India, three cities – Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai rank among the top 10 cities with the worst air quality indices.
- This is according to air quality and pollution city tracking service from IQ Air, a Switzerland-based climate group that is also a technology partner of the United Nations Environmental Program.
India’s Air Pollution Levels
- India has 37 of the world’s 50 most polluted cities, despite its air quality standards being more lax. For instance, its standards for PM2.5 and PM10 are 60 and 100 µg/m3 respectively (over 24 hours), while the WHO’s new standards are 15 and 45 µg/m3 (over 24 hours).
- The Global Burden of Disease estimates that India lost 1.67 million lives in 2019 directly as a result of breathing polluted air, or because of pre-existing conditions exacerbated by air pollution.
- The problem is, our economic growth is built on fossil fuels. Coal, oil, and natural gas account for roughly 75% of our power generation and >97% of road transport, but they come at the cost of heavy CO, SO2, NO2, ozone, and particulate matter emissions.
Why National Capital is in the News due to rising pollution?
- The situation is particularly grim in the national capital, where mounting levels of air pollution have triggered concerns of a health emergency.
- As an immediate measure, the Delhi government has announced the closure of all schools in the city till further orders.
What is Air Quality Index?
- AQI is a mean of pollutants such as particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and carbon monoxide (CO) emissions as a single value.
- The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health concern.
- AQI is recorded by SAFAR, an organisation that integrates the measurement of air quality with weather forecasts.
Supreme Court’s Tough Stand
- On December 2, 2021, the Supreme Court has directed the Centre and Delhi government to come out with suggestions to control the pollution within 24 hours.
- A special bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana said it expected serious action on the ground to bring down pollution levels.
- The Supreme Court of India asked pertinent questions: despite the compliance reports, why are the results on the ground negligible and what is the Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region doing?
What measures are yet taken to bring down pollution levels?
- Several steps are being taken to help reduce air pollution levels in the country and monitoring stations have been set up in 132 cities.
- These monitoring stations have been set up in 132 cities in the country to monitor air pollution and steps are being taken by the government to reduce pollution.
- The government has taken steps on changing BS4 norms in vehicles for fuel emissions to BS6 and is evolving schemes in various cities for setting up Metro rails.
- The finance commission has also earmarked Rs 4400 crore for local industry to help reduce pollution at the national level.
- In Delhi where there is a lot of pollution, the Eastern Express Highway and Western Express highway have been constructed to help minimise fuel consumption in vehicles.
- Diesel vehicles of over 10 years have also been prohibited in NCR Delhi.
- As far as industrial pollution, the government is enforcing stringent pollution norms for coal-based power plants.
- Technology upgrade is being taken up in industrial units around NCR.
- The Government has launched National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) as a national-level strategy to reduce air pollution levels across the country.
- City Specific Clean Air Action Plans have been prepared and rolled out for implementation in 132 non-attainment and million-plus cities.
- Rs 375.44 crores have been sanctioned to non-attainment cities under NCAP for initiating actions such as the expansion of monitoring network, construction etc.
- As per the Fifteenth Finance commission recommendations ₹4400 crores have been released in the Budget of FY 2020-21 to tackle the burgeoning problem of air pollution for 42 urban centres with a million-plus population.
- Further, an amount of Rs 12,139 crores has been allocated for the improvement of air quality for the award period FY 2021-26.
- City-specific action plans for the improvement of air quality has been prepared and approved for implementation.
- Implementation of the city-specific action plans are regularly monitored by committees at the central and state levels namely steering committee, monitoring committee and implementation committee.
National Clean Air Programme
- The Central Government launched National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) as a long-term, time-bound, national-level strategy to tackle the air pollution problem across the country in a comprehensive manner with targets to achieve 20% to 30% reduction in Particulate Matter concentrations by 2024 keeping 2017 as the base year for the comparison of concentration.
- Under NCAP, 122 non-attainment cities have been identified across the country based on the Air Quality data from 2014-2018.
- The city-specific action plans have been prepared which, inter-alia, include measures for strengthening the monitoring network, reducing vehicular/industrial emissions, increasing public awareness etc.
- Implementation of the city-specific action plans are regularly monitored by Committees at the Central and State levels namely Steering Committee, Monitoring Committee and Implementation Committee.
- The air quality of cities is monitored by State Pollution Control Boards which publishes their results from time to time.
- Some Smart Cities have established Integrated Command and Control Centres (ICCCs) which are also connected to Air Quality Monitors (AQMs) for effective monitoring.
What kind of a strategy or action plan should India adopt to address these health challenges?
- There should be end-of-pipe air pollution control.
- Innovative implementation steps should be instituted like Local regulation targeted controlling both the concentration and total emission amount leading to transforming and upgrading the industrial structure production processes and equipment.
- Economic incentives should be tailored to the specific problem, with attractive levels of subsidies to high-polluting enterprises to close their production and differentiated fees should be charged according to the concentration of waste gas emissions for those who chose to remain in production.
- Integrated measures should be taken for targeting primary pollutants (SO2, NO2, PM10, and CO), with the Government playing the main role.
- When it comes to air pollution, particulate matter is the most difficult to control, leads to smog and serious health issues, and is largely caused by vehicle emissions. So, electrification should be done as soon as possible.
- Independent evaluations should review the air quality management system, conduct quantitative assessments of the pollution reduction effects in selected areas, analyse new challenges, and provide recommendations for enabling further improvement in air quality and building public support.