Less than half of the funds released under the three-year-old national programme to improve air quality in India’s most polluted cities have been used so far.
Of the Rs 472 crore released by the central government so far, the 132 cities under the National Clean Air Programme have only used up Rs 227.6 crore as of June 2022, according to a reply by Minister of State for Environment, Forest & Climate Change Ashwini Kumar Choubey in the Lok Sabha.
India had launched NCAP in January 2019 targeting a 20-30% reduction in particulate matter 2.5 and PM10 levels by 2024 in 102 cities—later expanded to 132 cities—taking 2017 as the base year. BQ Prime had earlier reported that beyond submitting city-specific action plans, there has been little progress on ground.
Much of the underutilisation of funds is due to the fact that local administrations lack the expertise to implement action plans for improving air quality. Besides, the NCAP itself doesn’t have regulatory power, which means it cannot enforce cities into meeting specific targets.
The underutilisation also means that the Indian government has not augmented the annual budget it allocates to NCAP. All while Indians living in cities continue to breathe the most toxic air in the world.
According to Swiss firm IQAir, India was home to 35 of the 50 most-polluted cities in the world. New Delhi was the most polluted capital city for a fourth year running. Bhiwadi, Rajasthan, and Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, were the top two cities with worst average air quality in the world.
Findings by the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute have showed how air pollution on average is cutting five years from the life span of Indians. Even more in the Indo-Gangetic plains of North India—that houses nearly 40% of the country’s population—people are losing over seven years of their lifespan by breathing bad air.
In an earlier reply from July, Choubey had claimed that while the government is aware of such studies, it finds no “linear relationship” between air pollution and life expectancy. “There is no conclusive data available to establish a direct correlation of death exclusively due to air pollution,” Choubey had written in his reply.
Data from the World Health Organization attributes around 141 of every 1 lakh deaths in India to air pollution. According to the public health agency, air pollution is responsible for 43% of the deaths and disease from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 25% of all ischemic heart disease and 29% of lung cancer cases.