Air pollution is a pan-India problem, and whether viewed in terms of pollution sources or exposure, there is no reason to continue an urban-focus in air pollution mitigation measures. It is imperative for air quality governance in India to transition from a city-centric approach to an airshed approach. As resources to address the pollution crisis are scarce, a coordinated effort across a region, that supports consistent and uniform measures against similar pollution sources, is likely to lead to greater gains in terms of air quality.
In this Paper, we unpack some of the key issues relating to airshed-level governance and what is required to make that transition in India. The current regulatory set-up is designed to primarily focus on point sources, and the jurisdictional mandate of regulatory bodies aligns with state or city boundaries. To effectively regulate pollution and reduce pollution exposure, changes need to be introduced to this regulatory architecture, making it adopt an airshed-level approach. To begin with, airsheds have to be demarcated based on several criteria. However, there is sufficient literature available to initiate necessary reform measures, and the transition to an airshed or regional approach is not contingent on perfect airshed demarcation.
We propose that airsheds be notified under the Air Act by the State Governments as ‘air pollution control areas’, and the Union Government may constitute, through notification, multi-stakeholder institutions for each airshed under the EP Act. We have outlined the composition of such an institution, its powers, roles, and responsibilities. It will be a focal point for standard setting, policy guidance, planning and knowledge generation for the airshed, while not being involved in enforcement. A key ingredient for successful airshed-level governance is effective accountability mechanisms that ensure compliance by actors across the region. We envisage a role for the Union Government under the EP Act as well as for the National Green Tribunal in this regard.