Air Pollution

India’s Air Quality Management needs Transboundary Accountability


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Airshed

Mains level: Transboundary nature of Delhi Air Pollution Menace


Central Idea

  • The annual recurrence of ‘severe’ air quality levels in the Delhi-National Capital region and surrounding areas during winter often leads to the misconception that air pollution is a seasonal issue primarily driven by farm residue burning.
  • However, this perception falls short of the complex, year-round, multi-source, and multi-pollutant nature of the problem.

This article highlights the need to adopt a comprehensive, science-backed approach to address air pollution effectively.

Year-round, Multi-source Pollution

  • Misconception: Labelling air pollution as a ‘winter’ problem caused solely by farm residue burning oversimplifies the issue.
  • Complex Reality: Air pollution is a continuous problem arising from various sources, not confined to a particular season.
  • Ineffectiveness of City-Centric Strategies: Current initiatives like the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) focus on cities, ignoring the transboundary nature of pollution.

Transboundary Air Pollution

  • Understanding Dispersion: Pollution emitted in one region can significantly impact air quality in another due to transboundary dispersion.
  • Inter-state Implications: Weather, topography, and climatic conditions influence transboundary dispersion, creating challenges for downwind regions.
  • Limited Jurisdictional Power: Downwind regions often lack the authority to regulate upwind pollution sources, rendering mitigation strategies ineffective.

Need for Airshed Air Pollution Management

  • Defining Airsheds: An airshed is a geographic area governed by common meteorology, topography, and climate, impacting air mass dispersion.
  • Global Precedents: Countries like the United States, China, and the European Union have implemented effective regional airshed-level frameworks.

Policy Levers in India

  • Existing Legal Framework: The Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital and Adjoining Areas (CAQM) Act, 2021 recognizes the transboundary nature of air pollution.
  • Expanding Scope: The Air Act, 1981, can be expanded to cover multiple jurisdictions and pollution sources under a single air quality management framework.
  • Global Experiences: Drawing lessons from frameworks like the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) in the US and the Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) in Europe can inform India’s approach.

Implementation Challenges

  • Accountability: Holding upwind polluting regions accountable for transboundary pollution remains a challenge, necessitating legal mechanisms and cooperation.
  • Conflict Resolution: Implementing a formal procedure for resolving conflicts arising from the interpretation or application of airshed-level frameworks is crucial.
  • Political Will: Ensuring consistent implementation of air quality management measures despite bureaucratic cycles and political considerations is a persistent challenge.
  • Cross-Boundary Cooperation: Encouraging cooperation between jurisdictions and regions to collectively address air pollution requires coordinated efforts.
  • Data Integration: Integrating data from diverse sources and ensuring uniformity in air quality monitoring can be challenging.

Way Forward

  • Legal Framework Expansion: Expanding the scope of the Air Act, 1981, to encompass multiple jurisdictions and pollution sources under a single air quality management framework.
  • Global Lessons: Drawing lessons from international frameworks like the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) and Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) to inform India’s approach.
  • Accountability Measures: Legally binding upwind polluters to address transboundary pollution through mitigation plans.
  • Scientific Independence: Separating scientific and technical activities from political negotiations to ensure data-driven decisions.
  • Conflict Resolution Mechanism: Implementing a mechanism for resolving disputes arising from framework interpretation or application.
  • Promoting Change: Integrating an airshed-level framework within existing legal structures or introducing a new framework to deliver cleaner air for citizens.

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