Over the past decades, outdoor air pollution has become a leading cause of concern globally. In South Asia, it has been identified as the primary cause for millions of premature deaths in 2015.

Major contributors of air pollution –

Sources like on-road vehicles, biomass burning for cooking, solid-waste burning, crop burning and industrial emissions have been identified as major contributors.

Government response –

  • The centre’s recently launched National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) attempts to achieve combatting air pollution by calling for a collaborative and participatory approach to focus on all sources of pollution, with a time-bound national-level strategy.
  • NCAP sets a target of 20-30% reduction of PM2.5 and PM10 by 2024, with 2017 as the base year for comparison.

Improving NCAP –

  • Urging participation from relevant central ministries, states, local bodies and other stakeholders to understand source contribution, NCAP identifies the need to implement control strategies at local and regional level.
  • For better implementation of NCAP, there is a need for researchers and policymakers to access robust, open-source data.
  • India needs to develop a platform for reliable and timely data sharing, to understand source contribution and evaluate policy impacts at local and regional scale.

What needs to be done?

  • The government needs to focus on collating a local and regional database for different sectoral activities (like vehicle kilometre travel, biomass use, industrial energy use) as primary inputs for developing an ‘emission inventory’.
  • To develop an accurate emissions inventory, there is a need to calculate the emissions rate of various activities. Currently, most of the activity-based emissions factor used by India is developed outside the country, which may give erroneous results. India needs to develop its own emissions factor database relevant to local air pollution sources and activities.
  • Air pollution monitoring network plays a crucial role in identifying problem and evaluating policy impacts. Today, monitoring stations are far below the numbers required, and many existing ones are under stress due to external issues in the process of collecting data, like lack of electricity supply, inadequate workforce to handle and calibrate the monitoring instrument, etc.
  • For monitoring air quality, ample workforce and proper training for handling equipment, installation, time-to-time calibration and data analysis, are mandatory. For effective implementation of NCAP, this is as an immediate focus area to improve.
  • Finally, a majority of monitoring stations in India are in cities, and there is limited or no information available for rural areas. According to the Global Burden of Diseases report, air pollution levels in urban and rural India are unsafe, with 75% of indoor air pollution-related deaths being reported from villages. It is crucial to perceive this as a rural and urban crisis while studying, monitoring and developing mitigation measures.

Conclusion –

These steps will help build a systematic mitigation plan by setting up priorities at different scales and as per different regional requirements.