Air Pollution

National Clean Air Programme: Good idea but weak mandate


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspectives, the following things are important

Prelims Level: NCAP

Mains Level: NCAP and its mandate and effectiveness


  • After a long and impatient wait, MoEFCC has announced the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP).
  • This is the first ever effort in the country to frame a national framework for air quality management with a time-bound reduction target.

National Clean Air Programme

  1. NCAP proposes a framework to achieve a national-level target of 20-30 per cent reduction of PM2.5 and PM10 concentration by between 2017 and 2024.
  2. It will be a mid-term, five-year action plan with 2019 as the first year.
  3. The approach for NCAP includes collaborative, multi-scale and cross-sectoral coordination between the relevant central ministries, state governments and local bodies.

Prospects of the NCAP

Need stronger mandate

  1. NCAP will not be notified under the Environment Protection Act or any other Act to create a firm mandate with a strong legal back up implementation NCAP in a time bound manner for effective reduction.
  2. NCAP only mentions that the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) will execute this nation-wide programme in consonance with the section 162 (b) of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1986.
  3. The MoEFCC has not drawn upon the precedence of the notification of Graded Response Action Plan or the Comprehensive Action Plan under the Environment Protection Act in Delhi and NCR.

Advisory in Terms

  1. If NCAP remains an advisory, why will anything change?
  2. The past experience shows that MoEFCC and the CPCB have asked non-compliant cities to prepare action plans from time to time.
  3. Legal back up for a plan also becomes important not only to establish more enforceable mandate but also to ensure inter-ministerial coordination for multi-sectoral interventions and convergence.

Need litmus test for effectiveness

  1. NCAP has certainly helped kick start the much-awaited good practice of setting air pollution reduction targets.
  2. The biggest advantage of such targets is that it helps decide the level of stringency of local and regional action needed for the plans to be effective enough to meet the reduction targets.
  3. It is interesting that NCAP has cited how Beijing has succeeded in reducing PM2.5 by 33.3 per cent in five years.
  4. NCAP must sensitize cities about the scale, depth and strictness of action with detailed pathways for clean energy and mobility transition, waste and dust management and control of combustion sources to meet this target in Beijing and other Chinese cities.
  5. This can be done with strong multi-tiered accountability system, under which various levels of government could be held legally accountable for shirking responsibilities.

Joining all dots

  1. It is encouraging to see that the NCAP this time has listed comparatively more comprehensive action points than the very minimalistic and very generic 42 action points of CPCB that were put out earlier.
  2. This time, NCAP will have to be sure about strategies for implementation with detailed indicators to enhance the potential impacts.
  3. For instance, in case of vehicular pollution, the main body of the plan has ignored mobility, transportation and urban planning strategies.
  4. Though fortunately, broadsheet of action at the end has listed public transport, transit-oriented development policies, and non-motorized transport.
  5. But these will have to be detailed out with clear pathways and milestones and integrated well with the NCAP strategies.
  6. NCAP will also have to be more nuanced and adopt appropriate approaches for small and big cities according to their dominant pollution profile while several strategies may remain uniform.

Need fiscal strategy

  1. The most baffling part of NCAP is the absence of a robust fiscal and funding strategy.
  2. Only a pittance of Rs 300 crore is being earmarked for NCAP.
  3. Clearly, NCAP cannot be sustainable nor can it gain strength or make a difference on a longer-term basis if it does not have a clear fiscal strategy.
  4. It is also not clear if the proposed allocation is a one-time exercise or a continuous support.
  5. NCAP will require long-term commitment and support.

Need for Polluter Pay

  1. It is very surprising that NCAP has not provided for innovative financing mechanism at central and state/city level.
  2. It has not taken on board the ‘polluter pay’ based taxation mechanism to mobilise resources for dedicated funding of pollution control action and also to discourage polluting products, processes and activities.
  3. It should have taken precedence from emerging practices in the country ex. pollution cess in Delhi on truck entry, big diesel cars, and diesel fuel sales and the coal cess—to generate dedicated funds to finance clean air action plan.
  4. Such funds should be managed through unified window for the purpose of admissible pollution control activities identified in the action plan.

Health  is on-board with NCAP

  1. Even though NCAP continues to express skepticism about the existing health impact studies and evidences, it is encouraging to see that it has finally proposed support for health impact studies.
  2. NCAP has now taken on board the National Health Environmental Profile of 20 cities that the MoEF&CC initiated along with ICMR with special focus on air pollution and health.
  3. It has asked the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to maintain health database and integrate that with decision making.
  4. It has recommended support for studies on health and economic impact of air pollution.
  5. But NCAP must also make provisions to integrate health database, health impact, cost benefit studies and indicators for policy making.

Way Forward

  1. Air pollution is the top killer today. Under-5 children, the ailing, elderly and the poor are most vulnerable.
  2. Air pollution control cannot remain only policy intent. Local and national action requires teeth and grit to make a difference and save lives.
  3. NCAP should not become only a top-down prescriptive approach.
  4. In fact, within the federal structure, NCAP, while ensuring compliance, will also have to create enough room for tighter action that can be even stronger.
  5. State governments and city authorities should be encouraged and enabled to take those extra steps to meet local targets.
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