NEW DELHI: The central government’s think-tank, Niti Aayog, in its strategy paper ‘New India at 75’, has set ambitious targets to curb air pollution and recommended introduction of “stringent civil penalties to strengthen enforcement” of all environment-related acts to keep water, soil and forests safe.
Underlining the problem of air pollution and its ill effects on human health, it pitched for bringing the hazardous PM2.5 levels within the National Ambient Air Quality Standards in all cities across the country by 2022-23 and set a target of completely eliminating the practice of crop residue burning in the problem areas by that time.
In the paper released on Wednesday, the Aayog has put these two targets along with two others – creating 175 GW of renewable energy generation capacity and ensuring coverage of all households with LPG for cooking – as its goals to deal with the menace of air pollution by the time the country celebrates 75 years of independence in 2022.
Though the government has already been working on these fronts, bringing down PM2.5 levels in Indian cities to less than 50 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) – as specified in the strategy document – means over 100 cities will have to undertake stringent measures. All these are non-attainment cities whose air quality is worse than the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. These cities include Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Varanasi, Kanpur, Lucknow, Allahabad, Patna, Gaya, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Patiala, Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Hyderabad among others.
Among all toxins, PM2.5 (particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers) poses the greatest health risk as it can penetrate deep into a person’s lungs or cardiovascular system. Some of the non-attainment cities such as Delhi, Patna, Gaya and Kanpur have an average PM2.5 level that is much higher (twice or thrice) than the prescribed standards.
As far as 175 GW of renewable energy (solar, wind, biomass and small hydro) target is concerned, India had put it as its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) pledge under the Paris Agreement on climate change three years ago. The country has been working on its goal since 2015.
Though the Aayog’s paper does not elaborate on its specific sector-wise action plan to achieve those goals, it broadly outlines how it could be achieved if all stakeholders, including different central ministries and state governments, work in a time-bound manner with people’s participation.
Asked about such goals, a senior official in the environment ministry said the government was already working in this direction on multiple fronts – be it transport, renewable energy or overall power sector. “The goals are basically in sync with the upcoming National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) which has already fixed a target of reducing air pollution by 20-30% from the current level in 102 cities across the country by 2024,” said the official.
The main components of the NCAP include tackling pollution from all sources (transport, industries, thermal power plants, construction etc.) in all 102 cities. It will also include source apportionment, strengthening of air quality monitoring stations and setting up of Air Information Centre for data analysis, interpretation and dissemination.
As a way forward, the Aayog broadly expressed the need for implementation of its ‘Action Plan for Biomass Management’ to eliminate problem of stubble burning, setting up of task force to control pollution from brick kilns, taking effective measures for disposal of waste and converting vacant space in urban areas into urban greens among others.
On water pollution front, the think-tank aims to ensure “zero discharge” of untreated effluents from industrial units into rivers by 2022-23. It also pitches for ensuring uninterrupted flow of water in Ganga, Yamuna and other rivers by that time.