Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav said on Tuesday the number of cities with “improved air quality” had increased to 104 in 2020 from 86 in 2018 and attributed this to policies of the government. He was speaking at a public function to mark the International Day of Clean Air For Blue Skies.
However, the Environment Ministry’s own stand, on record in Parliament, has been that reduction in air pollution in 2020 was primarily due to the lockdown and transient.
To a question in the Lok Sabha on February 12, it said the COVID-19 related lockdown had resulted in a “temporary improvement” of air quality in many cities due to closure of industries, fewer vehicles plying, drop in construction activities and absence of human activities.
“However, the improvement in air quality due to widespread restrictions on operation of major activities was an extraordinary situation and, once normality is attained, pollution levels trend is observed in business-as-usual scenario,” the response noted.
On trends in air pollution, the same response cited data from the Central Pollution Control Board that showed 23 cities marking a “decreasing trend”, 239 cities a “fluctuating trend” & 38 cities an “increasing trend” in PM 10 levels. In the case of PM2.5 levels, 11 cities showed decreasing trend, 79 cities a fluctuating trend and 9 cities an increasing trend when pollution levels from 2015-2019 were averaged.
The Centre via the National Clean Air Programme has set itself a target of reducing key air pollutants PM10 and PM2.5 by 20-30% by 2024 in 122 cities. These are “non-attainment” cities as in they didn’t meet ambient air quality standards under the National Air Quality Management Programme.
Mr. Yadav also “virtually inaugurated” a smog tower at Anand Vihar, Delhi, and said it would supplement the air quality improvement efforts. A smog tower is designed as a large/medium scale air purifier to reduce pollution, usually by forcing the air through filters.
So far, ₹375.44 crore has been released to 114 cities during FY 2019-20 & 2020-21 under the city action plan. Further, ₹4,400 cores have been released to 42 cities with million-plus population as per the recommendations of the 15th Finance Commission report for FY 2020-21. This is in addition to funds available through various Central and State government schemes, the Ministry noted.