Air pollution knows no borders

Air pollution knows no borders. Air quality can be impacted by occurrences many miles away, from adjoining states to countries across the seas.

Air pollution takes a long time to develop, as does resolving the problem. Remedial measures require continuous and focused follow through, and not knee-jerk reactions each time air quality deteriorates on a seasonal basis.

Air pollution is created in numerous ways (power, transport, industry, dust, waste, agriculture), which therefore need multiple lines of attack on all fronts.

While understanding the contributing shares of each of these sources is important, there is no point in deflecting action on any one source by getting bogged down in debating relative shares. All major sources are bad and need to be attacked.

Finally, the action plan must have quantifiable time-bound objectives against which progress can be tracked rather than relying on a set of disparate open-ended measures.

National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) are in place, so action needs to be planned and tracked against these standards. This focus will ensure that we do not lose momentum each time we get a seasonal improvement.

There have been many positive measures over the past few years dealing with cleaner fuels, renewable energy, improved technology etc. Continued focus on implementation and enforcement remains necessary.

While individual measures make sense, action must be planned holistically to keep track of the overall progress being made.

The recent attempt to introduce emissions standards for the thermal power industry puts in perspective the governance process for essential air quality safeguards.

Thermal power plants are major sources of a range of pollutants, including particulate matter, SOx, NOx, and mercury. This is particularly true of older plants, that are not only more polluting but also are inefficient and use copious amounts of water.

In December 2015, the MoEFCC introduced comprehensive emission standards for thermal power plants and allowed 24 months till December 2017 for implementation. The deadline of December 7, 2017, passed, and little was done by the industry to comply. It must be noted that the largest owner and operator of thermal power plants are federal (NTPC) and state-owned utilities.

The recent judiciary-driven action in the National Capital Region (NCR) is welcome, but this is a nationwide problem and must be tackled accordingly.

Even if the MoEFCC and the CPCB become more visibly active, the question of their jurisdiction over activities under control of other Ministries such as power, industry, transport, urban development, agriculture etc remains.

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