Air pollution is now not a unique problem of Delhi NCR. However, it is the problem of almost the entire India. There are more than 132 cities that face the poor air quality issue and come under the category of non-attainment cities with annual average PM10 and PM2.5 concentrations. These levels are well beyond the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).
Almost all of India is exposed to unhealthy levels of PM10 and PM2.5. Besides that, 15 most polluted cities of the world are also from India, and all of them lie in Indo-Gangetic plains (IGP).
The severity of air pollution in IGP during winters every year explains the amalgamation of all possible contributing factors that include all major sources of air pollution like motor vehicles, industries, power plants, brick kilns, municipal waste burning and construction dust, the geography of the area and the weather conditions. Once we understand all the facts, just endlessly blaming the stubble-burning from the neighboring states as the main culprit to deteriorate the air quality of Delhi NCT will not be able to solve the problem.
Instead, central and state governments together should look at the problem of air pollution holistically and should prepare action plans to control the air pollution levels in the entire affected area forgetting their judicial boundaries as the air pollution does.
It is now high time for the government to strengthen the Air Act of 1981 with a clear reflection of the impacts of air pollution on public health. Simultaneously, effective implementation of existing policies and National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) irrespective to cities and states boundaries is the need of an hour with appropriate allocation of funds based on the magnitude of the problem as well as on the performance of different local,
regional and state-level agencies/departments in adopting and effectively implementing the control measures under different contributing sectors.
India needs to follow the holistic air-shed management approach, where coordinated actions are required at interdepartmental, inter cities and interstates levels with timely enforcement of air quality control measures. There should be a proper provision of allocation of funds for incentivization of committed interventions and control measures to meet the compliance.
Citizen lead Air Quality management approach is the need of an hour as they are the most important stakeholders and it is the dire need to educate and aware the citizens about the best practices and efforts to inculcate the responsible behavior among citizens towards the environment to tackle the local level air quality issues and concerns.
Following the success stories from other parts of the world to curb air pollution within a defined time frame, India needs to take a greater stride in controlling emissions from all major sources by enforcing pollution norms with clear and aggressive timelines.
Dr. Radha Goyal
Deputy Director, IPCA