Clean Air Action in Delhi-NCR: What next?
After years of battling air pollution, the time has come to assess what has worked, what has not, and what more is needed to clean the air of Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR). It took a pandemic induced lockdown to understand what it takes to witness a blue sky. But lockdowns are not the answer. For post-pandemic transformational changes, it is necessary to push durable long-term action. Two decades of battle has had its share of hits and misses with stabilization, worsening, and bending of the pollution curve. Delhi has done much more than other cities—closed coal power plants, stopped dirty fuels, scaled up industrial use of natural gas, put entire public transport and commercial fleets on natural gas, banned old vehicles, restricted truck entry, tightened control on construction, etc. Nonetheless the clean air benchmark is still nowhere in sight.
It is important to understand this story because Delhi's learning curve is important for the implementation of clean air action plans in other cities. Navigating the system to push action has always been a challenge. All the big wins in Delhi came despite facing considerable pushback and derailment. Either the industry resisted or the government was not convinced or the popular understanding of some measures was weak. The battle in the courts was protracted even though, overall, judicial intervention helped to counter pushback and build support for several multi-sector measures. But the scale of action is not uniform across NCR. The next big challenge is not to lose what has been won, but to build ambition and momentum for the next phase of action to push even more difficult and inconvenient solutions at larger scales.