Earlier this year, the government finally released the much-delayed National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), a five-year national-level strategy to tackle air pollution. Starting this year and with 2017 as the base year for measurements, the programme will be funded to the tune of about $91 million for the first two years which seems quite inadequate considering the magnitude and urgency of the problem. The programme may be further extended only after assessing the mid-term results.

The main goal of the programme is a 20–30 per cent reduction of PM2.5 and PM10 concentration by 2024. Both types of particulate matter (PM) are the most hazardous. NCAP also includes targets for increasing the number of monitoring stations, technology support, awareness- and capacity-building initiatives, and setting up of certification agencies for monitoring equipment. An apex committee under environment minister, a steering committee under secretary (environment), and a monitoring committee under a joint secretary are to be set up.

As of now, 102 cities not meeting pollution standards have been identified for implementing mitigation actions under NCAP. These cities have prepared action plans in consultation with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). Project-monitoring committees will be set up at the state level with scientists and trained personnel. To implement the programme, sectoral working groups, a national-level project-monitoring unit, a project-implementation unit, state-level project monitoring units, and city-level review committees will be constituted.

The plan includes specific sectoral interventions for key sectors that contribute significantly to air pollution, such as construction- and demolition-related dust, power sector and industrial emissions, transport sector emissions, agricultural emissions, etc. However, how exactly will these multiple initiatives be implemented and enforced remains to be seen.

Critics are saying that the plan currently lacks a clear action plan with timelines. The programme’s target of 20 to 30 per cent reduction has been criticised for being too conservative and not adequate to address the scale and intensity of the problem. Air pollution is estimated to have killed 1.24 million people in 2017 according to one study. Then there’s the funding aspect, which currently is a fraction of what experts say is required for any meaningful intervention.

At the programme launch, the environment minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said, ‘Overall objective of the NCAP is comprehensive mitigation actions for prevention, control and abatement of air pollution, besides augmenting the air quality monitoring network across the country and strengthening the awareness- and capacity-building activities.’