Millennium Post

The clean air vision

By signing the C40 Clean Air Cities Declaration, Delhi has become the first Indian city to embrace the need for an action plan against air pollution

The Indian political narrative has always maintained a safe distance from subjects like climate change and air pollution. While the entire world is confronting climate change, Indian politicians are not ready to admit that air pollution in India has reached public health emergency levels. However, there has been a slight change in this practice as of late. In the last election, all the major political parties put action against climate change in their election manifestos. After coming to power, however, the government has made no special allocation for such actions in the last budget.

Significantly, the Aam Aadmi Party led Delhi government took the fight against the air pollution to the world platform after Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal participated in the C40 World Mayors' Summit in Copenhagen. In this summit, the Delhi Chief Minister also signed C40 Clean Air Cities Declaration which is a target based vision document to fight Delhi's air pollution.

Last month, the Delhi government also launched its own action plan to fight pollution. Both of these steps are a first of its kind development for a state government. By these measures, the Delhi government is taking the responsibility to fight the battle against air pollution, formulating a vision in the process. In the last few months, the fight against air pollution has also become a major talking point in Delhi's politics and the Vidhan Sabha election of Delhi which is likely to happen within six months.

The C40 Clean Air Cities Declaration has set specific targets and also a timeline to bring down air pollution in Delhi. The declaration observed, "The National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) of India sets the target of bringing down the PM2.5 and PM10 levels by 20-30 per cent by 2024, relative to 2017. Delhi is already a model for other Indian cities on fighting pollution by successfully bringing down the average annual PM2.5 levels by 25 per cent over 2016-18, as compared to the baseline of 2012-14. The government of NCT of Delhi will further endeavor, in a period of 2 years, to set a reduction target that puts them on a path to achieving and exceeding NCAP targets by 2024."

In this declaration, the Delhi government also announced plans to form a task force to fight air pollution. "Commitments will be actioned and monitored by the 'Clean Air Task Force' chaired by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Members of this task force will consist of line department heads and external experts working on sustainability, resilience, public health, social activism, energy and mobility. This task force will also create a 'Climate Transformation Plan and Budget' that combines the best practices emanating from the task force," the declaration noted.

The declaration also included explicit department based plans to combat air pollution of Delhi which show the government as a whole fighting this battle as an interdepartmental initiative. These timeline-based plans show that the fight against pollution is just not an election gimmick but also a vision for a larger fight. The Delhi government has also started giving subsidies to various industries to convert them from diesel to CNG. The government will also be give subsidies to restaurants so that they can stop the use of tandoors. Such subsidy models help the organisations to take the initiatives and on the ground, Delhi has already witnessed positive results.

Delhi government will also implement the 'Odd-Even' road rationing scheme across the city from next month onwards. Past implementation of odd-even policy in winter months has resulted in particulate emissions being down by 14-16 per cent as per a study by Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. Additionally, a community Diwali laser show will be organised by the Delhi government and open spaces for fire-cracker burning have been identified to prevent residential area pollution. On top of all this, pollution masks will be distributed in bulk.

In order to control dust on roads, the frequency and area of water sprinkling will be increased by the government. Sweeping the roads will be completely mechanised and will be in collaboration with municipal corporations of Delhi. The AAP-government will make special plans to deal with the 12 identified pollution hotspots in the city. The government will also launch the 'Delhi Tree Challenge' which encourages individuals to plant saplings in and around their houses. The government plans to deliver the sapling free of charge to the homes of residents who intend to participate in the challenge.

To conclude, I quote climate activist, Greta Thunberg who said, "Enough is enough". I believe that this should be the clarion call for Indian politicians, telling them that it is time to make the battle against air pollution a part of the political narrative. This will likely empower people of India to choose political parties based on their vision to fight air pollution and climate change.

(The author is an Associate Research Fellow of the Delhi Assembly Research Center. Views expressed are strictly personal)

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