OPINION: Fighting smog: How India can take a leaf from China's book

BANGALORE (The Straits Times/ANN) - Beijing turned its fate through an unprecedented nationwide clean-up popularly known as the Blue Skies campaign and may soon exit the list of the world's 200 most polluted cities

Delhi today may be the globe's most polluted capital, but that toxic trophy was once held by Beijing.

In 2014, the Chinese capital was deemed "almost uninhabitable" for humans.

But it turned its fate through an unprecedented nationwide clean-up popularly known as the Blue Skies campaign and may soon exit the list of the world's 200 most polluted cities.

The city forced coal-powered industry to install clean technology, scrapped old vehicles, switched from coal to natural gas to heat homes, and launched an app encouraging people to report violators.

In January, the Indian ministry of environment launched a similar comprehensive programme with city action plans.

The National Clean Air Programme aims to reduce toxic particulate matter pollution (PM 2.5 and PM 10) by 20-30 per cent in at least 102 cities by 2024.

Broadly, the plan is to increase public transportation as well as walking and cycling infrastructure; eradicate open waste burning; control dust on the roads and construction sites; tighten and enforce emission standards for all industries.

"The Clean Air programme is a laundry list of good ideas from across the world, but it's put together in an unprioritised, haphazard way that diffuses resources and attention. It needs clearer priorities and detailed plans," said Mr Santosh Harish, who works on air pollution regulation at Delhi's Centre for Policy Research.

Mr Siddharth Singh, author of The Great Smog Of India, explained the central difference between the two approaches.

"If an industry is coming up in a certain place, the state pollution control board would check if it meets India's pollution norms. China's Blue Skies policy would first determine whether the industry, highway or brick kiln is even needed in this location or not," said Mr Singh.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang spoke strongly about the environment at the 13th Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and National People's Congress in January this year, making clean air a political priority.

"In India, you don't hear this clear strong political message that can make bureaucrats sit up," Mr Singh.

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