In a first, the Centre has come up with a law, through an Ordinance, for tackling air pollution in the Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR) and setting up a commission for it.
The commission will have the authority to shut down or regulate water and electricity supply to industries or sites which cause air pollution. It will also have the powers to seize and search under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and also issue a warrant.
The President signed the ordinance on Thursday titled ‘The Commission for air quality management in National Capital Region and adjoining areas, 2020’.
This is the first time that the Centre has formed a legislative commission for air pollution. The commission can slap a penalty of Rs 1 crore and/or five-year jail term to those flouting air pollution norms.
The already existing Environment Pollution (prevention & control) Authority (EPCA), formed in 1998, has been dissolved. The EPCA was formed after a Supreme Court order two decades back but its powers and functions were limited, especially regarding coordination with states.
Commenting on the ordinance, Sunil Dahiya, analyst with the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, said the issue would be with regard to the implementation as EPCA had similar powers.
“EPCA had almost similar powers but failed miserably in cleaning the air even after being in force for more than 20 years. The question of whether it’s a positive move or just a distraction and wasteful exercise will be decided on the fact whether the ordinance changes the status quo when it comes to ground implementation and action on polluters or not,” said Dahiya.
Against seven members of the EPCA, the new commission will have 18 members, including a chairperson and secretary as well as eight associate members from different ministries. It will have “exclusive jurisdiction” in the NCR on matters relating to air quality management. It has been provided discretionary authority to search, seize any polluting site and issue a warrant.
Apart from seven central ministries, the commission will have also representation from five states, Central Pollution Control Board, Indian Space Research Organisation, NITI Ayog, pollution experts and NGOs. It will co-ordinate with the states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh to plan, execute and monitor programmes for “prevention, control and abatement of air pollution.”
“The participation of states in the commission is extremely important as it sets up a fora for collective decision making and implementation among different political bodies. The precedence accorded to decisions of the commission with respect to those of the Central and State Pollution Control Boards is important as it will ensure harmonisation of actions in all the states. Mutually inconsistent actions among states (for example gradual response action plan on NCR and paddy stubble burning in upwind states) impede short-term air quality improvements and long-term solutions,” said Ajay Mathur, director general, TERI.
The commission will also formulate parameters for air quality, emissions and discharge of environmental pollutants, including stubble burning and monitor its adherence. It will also have powers to inspect sites and investigate as well as carry out researches relating to air pollution.
“It will provide a mechanism and the means to implement in NCR the National Clean Air Programme, National Air Quality Monitoring Programme and National Ambient Air Quality Standards,” said the ordinance.
In case of any dispute with regard to the commission and its order, the case would be heard only at the National Green Tribunal.