Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on Issues Related to Air Quality in Urban Areas

The 15th Finance Commission headed by Sh. N. K. Singh and including its Members and senior officials held a detailed meeting with the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change headed by the Union Minister for  Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Shri Prakash Javadekar, senior officers on issues relating to Air Quality(AQ) specially that in Urban Areas. It may be recalled that the XVFC Report 2020-2021 was the first time that any Commission has given attention to air quality (AQ) as a major focus and this FC had not only recommended grants for 2020-21 and also provided road map for its award period. The meeting started with the Minister applauding the Commission for this path breaking step.

The Commission is currently deliberating the recommendations to be made for the next five years from 2021-22 to 2025-26 and needs to formulate suitable provisions for continuing the grants for these cities/UAs for improving ambient air quality in a sustainable manner. In this regard it needed to understand the procedure and operational guidelines finalised in administering these grants and monitoring the outcomes for 2020-21, the meeting with the MoEF&CC was called for.

            The objective of the meeting focused was to was to discuss on the status of the implementation of the FC’s recommendations for 2020-21 for administering the grants to improve AQ in million-plus cities and also to seek inputs from the Ministry on what should be considered for the next five years from 2021 to 2026 and this was elaborated by the Chairman, Shri N. K. Singh to the Minister and the officials.

            The Commission was given the following information: 

  • Regarding reliable data on AQ measurement, it was explained that there is a network of around 984 stations covering a wide range of cities and towns, around 779 manual stations and 205 continuous monitoring stations in around 500 cities which were set up under the National  Control  of   Air   Pollution   (NACP)  to meet its  objectives. Though a network of AQI monitoring stations are in place, there is a need for strengthening and expanding these along with the geographical area to cover the air-shed areas in order to make it more robust and accurate. 
  • The Ministry has begun this work earlier as part of roll-out of NACP and various think-tanks like IITs, IIMs and NITs have been made local partners for different cities/towns. Ministry will also seek their expert guidance on what the Commission need to consider for the five years from 2021.
  • As the problem of AQ is mostly not a localized phenomenon and is influenced by many factors beyond the control of a particular region, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) is now focusing on air-shed management approach.
  • Construction & Demolition Waste Management was a priority of the Government and that the Government would seek the support of the Commission for the same.

The Minister (MoEF&CC) Shri Prakash Javadekar, appreciated the inclusion of Air Quality(AQ) of Delhi in the XVFC’s Report of 2020-2021 and added that there would be a basic structural change in sources of AQ in the next few years and particularly in larger cities of the country due to the new regime to emission norms which would lead to a estimated reduction of 30 to 40 per cent in vehicular emission. 

He opined that strict implementation of pollution and emission laws with harsh punishment and penalties to the defaulters is the pre-requisite for ambient AQ. 

He informed that with the launching National AQ Index in 2015, we now have reliable data of AQ with respect to 42 million plus cities from 2017 onwards. 

The Minister also informed the Commission that his Ministry was coming up with the rules for implementation of Construction and Demolition Waste Control so as to control dust, a major source of pollution in cities.

The Minister emphasized that the grants by FC-XV should continue for the next five years to strengthen the network and coordination between SPCBs of various cities for enforcement of AQ improvement measures. Third party assessment could be done through institutes like IITs and IIMs. He also stated that the Ministry is planning to hold a conference with the SPCBs to ensure effective implementation of this programme, to which the Chairman XVFC has been invited as a participant.

He also briefed about various reforms are being taken up by the Ministry at a break-neck speed and stated that the time delays in approval of application/liences were drastically brought down from earlier 640 days  to 108 days now. Further, this period will be brought down to 50 days within next six months. As regards ease of doing business, the Ministry is coming up with an amendment to the notification of environment impact assessment. He also mentioned the various reforms Page 6 of 7 implemented in the coal washeries that brought down the pollution by several fold and many other steps have been initiated by the Ministry as part of ease of doing business at national and international level.

The Commission unilaterally appreciated the Ministry’s effort in building up capacity to monitor Air Quality.  The Commission also stressed on the need for controlling agricultural pollution.

It will be recalled that the 15th Finance Commission in its report for the Financial Year 2020-2021 had  recommended grants of Rs. 4,400 crore for the year 2020-21 to improve the ambient air quality in fifty million plus cities/Urban Agglomerations (UAs). For this, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Challenge has been entrusted with the responsibility to facilitate the desired outcomes through these urban local bodies.

The Chairman while stressing on the need for consistent and reliable data on AQ, stated that Commission was concerned about the pollution of NCR and would address the same within the mandate of the Finance Commission.  He assured that MoEF&CC that the XVFC would continue it consultations with the Ministry on this critical issue of AQ in million plus cities to firm up its recommendations.