air pollution NCAP

Over the five years, Navi Mumbai’s PM2.5 went up from 38.8 ug/m3to 56.9 ug/m3. Photo: 君勇 林/Flickr

Air in Delhi, Patna most polluted, Navi Mumbai worsening: 5-yr NCAP analysis 

Since the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), India’s flagship air quality management initiative was launched in 2019, cities like Varanasi, Agra and Jodhpur have seen significant reductions in PM2.5 and PM10 levels, while other cities face escalating pollution levels

A new report shed light on the initial five-year run of the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), launched in 2019 by the Union government to combat air pollution in 131 non-attainment cities. The report said that while NCAP made air quality an important issue with good, consistent efforts, challenges remain in achieving targets that have been set.

The analysis was conducted by Climate Trends and Respirer Living Sciences using data from theCentral Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) network of Continuous Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Stations (CAAQMS) in 131 non-attainment cities. Before we go into details, let’s understand what NCAP exactly is.

What is the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP)?

The Union government launched NCAP on January 10, 2019, to address air pollution in 102 cities. Subsequently, some cities were added to this list, and others were dropped. There are currently 131 cities, which are called non-attainment cities as they did not meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), for the period of 2011-15, under the National Air Quality Monitoring Program (NAMP). 

The NCAP’s initial target was to reduce two key air pollutants, PM10 and PM2.5 (ultra-fine particulate matter), by 20-30% by 2024, with 2017 levels as the base. In September 2022, the Centre revised this to a 40% reduction by 2026. To meet this target, approximately ₹9,649.99 crore has been released to the non-attainment cities under NCAP and the Fifteenth Finance Commission.

Key findings: Varanasi improves, Navi Mumbai worsens 

A five-year status check of NCAP’s progress revealed a mixed scenario. For 49 cities, PM2.5 data was available for all five years. Out of these, 27 cities recorded improvements in PM2.5 levels from 2019 to 2023. Similarly, for PM10, data across five years was available for 46 cities. Of these, 24 cities saw an improvement in their PM10 levels. 

An analysis of data from the continuous air quality monitors installed by the CPCB in various non-attainment cities showed that between 2019 and 2023, Varanasi achieved a significant reduction in PM2.5 and PM10 levels. The city showed a 72% reduction in PM2.5 (from 96 ug/m3to 26.9 ug/m3) and a 69% reduction in PM10 (from 202.5 ug/m3to 62.4 ug/m3), already ahead of its 2026 targets of a 40% reduction for both pollutants.

PM2.5 and PM10 percentage change in 2023 w.r.t. 2019

Among other cities that registered a more than 40% reduction in the PM2.5  levels (as compared to 2019) were Jodhpur (50%), Kanpur (50%), Meerut (42%), and Lucknow (41%). Except for Jodhpur, all cities that have already achieved the 2026 reduction targets are from Uttar Pradesh. With respect to PM10  levels, apart from Varanasi and Talcher, no other cities have met the 40% reduction target yet.

On the other hand, cities experiencing the greatest increase in PM2.5 from 2019 to 2023 include Navi Mumbai (46%), Ujjain (46%) and Mumbai (38%). Over the five years, Navi Mumbai’s PM2.5 went up from 38.8 ug/m3to 56.9 ug/m3. Ujjain’s PM2.5 increased from 43.7 ug/m3to 64 ug/m3, and Mumbai’s levels went up from 35.8 ug/m3to 49.5 ug/m3. The number of active monitors in Mumbai went up from nine in 2019, with an uptime of just 21%, to 22 in 2023, with an uptime of 83%. Navi Mumbai also saw an increase in active monitors and uptime, but Ujjain continued to have only one monitor with nearly 100% uptime. Similarly, for PM10, Durgapur, Thane, and Mumbai show an increase of 53%, 46% and 36%, respectively.

Delhi and Patna most polluted, Silchar in Assam the least 

In 2023, Delhi recorded the highest PM2.5 levels of 102 µg/m³, an increase of 2.5% compared to 2022. Delhi’s PM2.5 levels in 2023 are a marginal improvement of 5.9% from its levels in 2019. Patna exhibited the highest PM10 levels in 2023 at 212.1 µg/m³, up from 191.6 µg/m³ in 2022. The city has seen 5.8% deterioration in its PM10 levels from 2019. 

Silchar, Assam, recorded the lowest PM2.5 level in 2023 at 9.6 µg/m³. However, it remains noteworthy that this seemingly low level is nearly double the WHO’s stipulated safe limit of 5 µg/m³. Silchar also recorded the lowest PM10 level at 29.2 µg/m³.  However, this seemingly moderate value is nearly double the WHO safe limit of 15 µg/m³. This underscores the critical need for more stringent air quality targets and enhanced mitigation measures to safeguard public health, the report added. 

The report also looked at the trends in the most and least polluted cities. Upon examining changes from 2019 to 2023, air quality improvements in PM2.5 were observed in 10 out of 15 cities, including Delhi and Patna, the most polluted cities in 2023. Contrarily, Ujjain and Amritsar experienced a deterioration of 46.5% and 18.4%, respectively. As far as PM10 was concerned, a total of 14 out of 19 cities saw improvements, including Delhi, Noida, Ghaziabad, and Meerut, while cities that saw a deterioration included Patna, Muzaffarpur and Jaipur. 

Way to safer and cleaner air 

The dispersion of pollutants over a city is influenced by several factors, including its geographical location, diverse sources of particulate matter emissions, and meteorological conditions. The report found that the government has installed a number of new air quality monitoring stations in many of the NCAP cities, which is a positive development. That said, an average of data from two monitors in crowded locations of a city can provide a different picture of air quality compared to an average of, say, data from five stations spread across the city. 

While progress has been made, the report highlighted that air pollution levels in most cities exceed national standards and international guidelines, emphasising the ongoing challenges in achieving globally recognised air quality benchmarks. The least polluted cities still surpass the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) safe limits, underscoring the need for more stringent regulatory frameworks. The findings highlighted the positive strides made under the NCAP, while emphasising the need for continued efforts to attain cleaner air across the nation.

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