Between January 2019 and December 2023, India released ₹ 9649.99 crore to the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) to combat air pollution in 131 cities. Out of this, 60 per cent of the funds have been utilised until December 2023, according to the data by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. However, a deeper look into the data shows that the most polluted cities aren’t the ones that received the most funds under the programme.

These 131 non-attainment cities (Cities that consistently do not meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for certain pollutants) have cumulatively utilised ₹ 5835.03 crore funds for NCAP.

Funds are allocated to these cities based on the assessment by the Central Pollution Control Board and the utilisation of the amount allocated in the previous financial year. However, a closer look at the data shows there is no correlation between pollution and NCAP fund allocation.

Data put together by advocacy think tank Climate Trends shows that in terms of Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5 levels, Delhi was the most polluted Indian city in 2023. This is despite PM 2.5 levels in Delhi reducing by 5.9 per cent between 2019 and 2023. This pollutant has a diameter 2.5 micrometres or less and can harm one’s lungs and heart. That being said, Delhi ranks 50th among the 131 cities, in terms of funds received for the NCAP.

Patna, the second most polluted city (in terms of PM 2.5 levels) received the ninth-highest allocation for the NCAP, indicating that the level of pollution does not correlate with the amount of funds allocated. Similar is the case with Faridabad, Muzaffarpur, Noida, Meerut, Ghaziabad, Nalbari, Dhanbad and Mandi Gobindgarh, which fall in the list of India’s 10 most polluted cities in 2023, in terms of PM 2.5 levels.

The NCAP was introduced by the centre in 2019. “The NCAP targets to achieve 20 per cent to 30 per cent reduction in concentrations of PM10 (particulate matter of diameter between 10 and 2.5 micrometre and can irritate one’s eyes, nose and throat) and PM2.5 by the year 2024, keeping 2017 as the base year for comparison of concentration,” according to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change’s manual on the programme. Some of its goals include constant monitoring of pollution levels, creating awareness among people and the implementation of mitigation measures for prevention, control and abatement of air pollution.

Fund utilisation

Of all 131 cities, Mumbai received and utilised the most funds. While it received ₹938.59 crore, it utilised ₹680.32 crore. Kolkata falls second in the list, having utilised ₹636.18 crore, 93 per cent of what was allocated. The third in the list is Chennai, utilising ₹367.51 crore, a little more than 100 per cent of what was allocated.

The data also shows that some cities have utilised nil to little money for the NCAP. The list includes Visakhapatnam and Nashik, which haven’t used any funds for the NCAP. Among the big cities, Bengaluru has used just 1 per cent of the ₹541.1 crore it received. “Urban local bodies are the implementing agencies for NCAP, and they are responsible for spending the funds disbursed to them for clean air action plans. These plans outline the work that the cities are required to undertake in the short, medium and long term,” reads the Climate Trends report.