By KK Pandey
Air quality in Delhi NCR assumes special significance as it (1) covers the national capital that is ranked sixth-most productive metro region in the world, (2) has five most polluted cities among top 15 in the world, namely Faridabad (4th), Ghaziabad (5th), Noida (10th), Gurugram (13th) and Delhi (15th), (3) and has multiplier effects on human health, productivity and quality of life. The government constituted the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) in National Capital Region and adjoining Areas through an ordinance on October 28, 2020, replacing the Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority by giving it overriding powers on AQM over all existing bodies in the Centre and states. This is a welcome step in line with the 15th Finance Commission’s decision to look at air quality in the context of a city region with allocation of specific grants (Rs 9,400 crore for 2020) for 50 urban agglomerations.
The CAQM has to give special cognisance to the role of most of municipal services that determine air quality and contribute to dust, smoke, vehicular pollution, etc. In this regard, it has to prioritise on (1) what should be the spatial distribution of urban local bodies (ULBs) in the region and adjoining areas, (2) who are the stakeholders responsible for municipal services, (3) what are the performance benchmarks needed for municipal scope of work, (4) how the convergence and synergy on clean air can be achieved, and (5) what needs to be done for wider adoption by cities in the NCR.
First, the pollution intensity in the region varies as per concentration of economic activities and urbanisation. Accordingly, ULBs should be identified as per suitable spatial distribution showing the concentration of urban population. On this basis, the region is divided into three parts: (1) the central NCR covering NCTD, Gurugram, Faridabad, Ghaziabad and Noida (previously, DMA towns), (2) remaining NCR, and (3) adjoining regions.
Second, stakeholder mapping should be done in each of the three sub-regions covering local bodies and parastatals/para-municipal agencies handling the municipal functions linked with air quality. Cluster of local bodies should be identified in each sub-region to have horizontal and vertical coordination on the subject. As suggested by the 15th Finance Commission, the largest ULB in the cluster should be assigned the role of a nodal agency for necessary follow-up.
Third, performance benchmarks need to be determined taking into account various measures initiated in India and elsewhere. These include (1) dust control measures (suppressers) in construction activities and management of lakes, parks, open spaces, sweeping of roads, e-rickshaws, CSR funds, community and civil society involvement; (2) sewage/effluent treatment at source and at local level (Ahmedabad, Bengaluru), hybrid annuity model of STP (Mathura); (3) water harvesting (Bengaluru, Chennai); (4) treatment of kitchen waste at household, neighbourhood, ward or local level (Bengaluru); (5) census of trees (NDMC, Ahmedabad); (6) solar lights and continuity in electricity supply to reduce usage of generators (Delhi); (7) generation of solar energy in offices, open spaces, parks, lakesides (NDMC, Bhopal); and (8) treatment of construction and demolition waste with buyback facility (Ahmedabad, Delhi).
Fourth, convergence and synergy should be achieved with a city-level pollution containment plan (physical, financial) in line with the funds available with 15th Finance Commission grants, the National Clean Air Programme, civil society and CSR. Energy and environmental audit as provided under the Model Municipal Law 2003 should be a regular exercise under this plan. The Smart Cities Mission has initiated the Climate Smart Cities Assessment Framework (2019) and the Streets for People Challenge (2020) to consolidate municipal functions towards cleaner air. Similarly, other urban missions have the scope of energy efficiency and environment-friendly actions.
Finally, a ranking of all ULBs and census towns in the NCR and adjoining areas may be done periodically to initiate awards on municipal initiatives on clean air. It may include documentation and dissemination of best practices and encourage P2P learning, competition and adaptation.
The author is professor, Urban Management, Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi