NAAQs policies fail to improve air quality in India: study reveals

NAAQs policies fail
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WASHINGTON: A recent study released by the International Institute for Applied System Analysis (IIASA) and the Council on Energy, Environment, and Water (CEEW) has found that more than 674 million Indian citizens are likely to breathe air with high concentrations of PM2.5 in 2030, even if India comply with its existing pollution control policies and regulations.

The study shows that only 833 million citizens will be living in areas which lies in parameters set by India’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) in 2030 and that implementation failure could increase these numbers significantly.

However, aligning sustainable development policies to the implementation of advanced emission control technologies could provide NAAQS-compliant air quality to about 85 per cent of the Indian population.

The study found that the people living in Indo-Gangetic plain, covering states such as Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Bihar and West Bengal, has the highest population exposure to significant PM2.5 concentrations. This is due to the high density of polluting sources and reduced ventilation by the obstructing presence of the Himalayas.

In 2015, about 670 million citizens, which accounts for more than half of India’s population, were exposed to PM2.5 concentrations that did not comply with India’s NAAQS for PM2.5 (40 μg/m³). Further, less than 1 per cent enjoyed air quality that met the World Health Organisation (WHO) benchmark limit of 10 μg/m³.

“A significant share of emissions still originates from sources associated with poverty and underdevelopment such as solid fuel use in households and waste management practices,” explained Markus Amann, Air Quality and Greenhouse Gases Program director, IIASA.

In January 2019, government of India launched the National Clean Air Program (NCAP) a time bound national level strategy for pan India implementation to tackle the increasing air pollution problem across the country in a comprehensive manner.

The program focuses on 102 polluted Indian cities and aims to reduce PM2.5 levels by 20-30 per cent over the next five years.

The analysis conducted by researchers from IIASA and CEEW has suggested that NCAP needs to be backed by a legal mandate to ensure successful ground-level implementation of emission control measures.

Pallav Purohit, Researcher, IIASA and lead author of the study said, “While current ambient PM2.5 monitoring in India reveals high levels in urban areas, remote sensing, comprehensive air quality modelling, and emission inventories, suggest large-scale exceedances of the NAAQS, also in rural areas.”

Hem Dholakia, Senior research associate, CEEW said, “The IIASA-CEEW study clearly shows that the policy choices of today will impact future air quality and its aftermaths. The central and state governments must do more to align air quality, climate change, and sustainable development goals in a resource efficient manner.”

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