Working Papers

Strengthening India’s Ambient Air Quality Standard-Setting Process

Centre for Policy Research

December 6, 2021

The National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) provide the basis for assessing air quality nationally, determining pollution control priorities, and defining what we consider to be acceptable air quality to protect public health. They are framed and issued by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) under the Air Act (1981). In August 2021, the CPCB announced that a revision of the NAAQS would be undertaken over the next year under the leadership of faculty from IIT Kanpur, with representatives from other institutions. The wide-ranging remit for this committee includes revisiting the existing standards for criteria pollutants, potentially expanding the base of pollutants being measured, determining the effects of air pollution on human health and vegetation, designing, and setting up of monitoring networks, and reviewing the air quality index. These revisions to the NAAQS will serve to define the discussion around air pollution for the next decade in India. Making the standards more ambitious will be based on our understanding of risk associated with exposure and how that has evolved over time. It will have implications for how that risk is communicated by the government to citizens through the Air Quality Index (AQI) and will provide a basis for regulating certain point sources. More ambitious standards can also provide a useful benchmark against which to measure the progress of our initiatives to improve air quality.

Given the import of these standards as a means of protecting public health, engaging in risk communication, and tracking progress against our air quality goals, it is essential that the process followed by the NAAQS revision committee is clearly laid out and guided by a series of fundamental principles. These include ensuring their relevance by committing to predefined periodic reviews, basing policy decisions on a solid foundation of science by engaging a broad range of experts, centering health in air quality policy making, and building trust with civil society and other stakeholders. Reinforcing institutional processes are a long-term challenge, and we recognize that significantly altering the parameters of work of a committee whose work is already underway may not be possible. The principles and actions laid out in this framing note can form the basis for future work in this area by the CPCB. In our recommendations, we also outline several immediate actions that can be taken by the CPCB and the NAAQS committee as they proceed with the revision of the NAAQS.

Krishna, B. 2021 “Strengthening India’s ambient air quality standard-setting process”. Framing Note, Initiative for Climate, Energy, and Environment. New Delhi: Centre for Policy Research. December 2021

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