By Sanjana Manaktala and Abhinav Verma
India is one of the most polluted countries in the world and as such the situation endangers a sizeable fraction of humanity. Per the WHO, 14 of the world’s 15 most polluted cities between 2010 and 2016 were in India. The present situation is no less than a public health emergency.
Recently, the US Health Effects Institute reported that India and China account for over half of global deaths due to air pollution. The Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago also concluded that Indians could live four years longer on average if the nation complied with WHO standards. Monetarily, air pollution is estimated to have pulled India’s GDP down by 8.5% in 2013, out of which some $55.39 billion (PPP-adjusted for 2011, Rs 3.9 lakh crore in 2018) was due to losses in labour output.
To contain this risk, the environment ministry crafted an ambitious plan called the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), worth Rs 637 crore. It was due to be notified by the end of July this year but hasn’t been. More worryingly, the plan document appears to have been diluted over multiple iterations.
Quantitative national targets that featured in the draft concept note released in March 2018 don’t find mention in the updated note from April 2018. In the absence of time-bound targets as part of cohesive city-, state- and sector-wise plans that add up to a larger national effort, the success – or lack thereof – of the publicly funded programme simply cannot be determined. The targets of reducing pollution levels by 35% and 50% in the next three and five years, respectively, would have been the guiding lights creating impact. Now that they stand redacted, the NCAP is effectively blind.
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