[Editorial Analysis] A passage to clean air

Mains Paper 3: Environment

Prelims level: Air Pollution Index

Mains level: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental
impact assessment

Context

• Globally, rapid economic and social development has resulted in severe air pollution that kills around 7 million people every year, and India is home to 14 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities.

• To win the battle against air pollution, India needs a comprehensive action plan for the whole year.

• It is noteworthy that China had also faced severe air pollution problems.

• On January 12, 2013, the Air Quality Index (AQI) in Beijing rose to a record 755 about 35 times the guideline set by the World Health Organisation on what is called the “Blackest Day”.

Lesson from China

• China acted firmly: On March 17, 2013, Premier Li Keqiang announced: “We need to face the situation and punish offenders with no mercy and enforce the law with an iron fist”.

• In September 2013, the Chinese government announced an Air Pollution Action Plan with a PM 2.5 reduction target of 33 per cent in Beijing by 2017, with 2013 as the base year.

• The measures adopted were costly, controversial and implemented with seriousness, enabling the city to achieve its target.

• Along similar lines, in 2017, the South Korean government also set a target of PM 2.5 reduction by 30 per cent by 2022, with base year 2017.

• Based on their experience, and other insights, we feel that India needs three action measures to begin its journey towards clean air.

• The first is a comprehensive plan and setting of goals.

• The Indian government on May 17 had announced a draft of the “National Clean Air Programme (NCAP)” with a framework and multiple strategies to reduce air pollution in the entire country.

• (MoEF) has set a target to cut down PM levels by 30 per cent in five years, with 2019 as the base year.

• The second corresponds to Designating an in-charge, empowered with the due mandate.

• In China, air pollution prevention and control is the responsibility of the central environmental protection inspector, and in cities special inspections are carried out to strengthen the accountability of inspectors.

• To top it all, the Chinese government has established the “five-step” supervision mechanism that involves investigation, assignment, verification, interview and special inspection.

• Our last action item is about driving a change in perspective.

• A view often touted about pollution reduction plans is that they are economically and politically difficult.

Way forward

• However, clean air programmes can actually provide significant economic opportunity in areas of technology, business, innovation, and enterprise while addressing the challenges of air pollution.

• Further, according to the NITI Aayog report on “Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs): Towards a Policy Framework”, electric vehicles could launch new business opportunities in areas such as battery charging and swapping infrastructure, service, or integrated transport.
• In the Indian context, coupled with the generation of renewable power, the battery manufacturing industry in India can become bigger than the total amount spent on import of crude oil, thus providing a huge boost to the Indian economy.

• So clean air, apart from better health and quality of life, can also bring in higher GDP, more jobs, more business, social benefits and higher tax revenues.

• It certainly doesn’t look like an economically or politically difficult proposition.

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