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Commission for Air Quality Management in the NCR

  • 30 Oct 2020
  • 9 min read

Why in News

Recently, the President of India has signed ‘The Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance, 2020’.

Key Points

  • Background:
    • The monitoring and management of air quality in the Delhi NCR region has been done by multiple bodies including the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the state pollution control boards, the state governments in the region, including Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan, and the EPCA.
    • They, in turn are monitored by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), and the Supreme Court itself, which monitors air pollution as per the judgment in ‘M C Mehta vs Union of India’, 1988.
      • EPCA is a Central Government constituted committee in the year 1998 for the National Capital Region in compliance with the Supreme Court order dated 7th January, 1998.
    • The Ordinance seeks to create an overarching body to consolidate all monitoring bodies, and to bring them on one platform so that air quality management can be carried out in a more comprehensive, efficient, and time-bound manner.
  • Composition of the New Commission:
    • The Commission will be headed by a full-time chairperson who has been a Secretary to the Government of India, or a Chief Secretary to a State government.
      • The chairperson will hold the post for three years or until s/he attains the age of 70 years.
    • It will have members from several Ministries as well as representatives from the stakeholder States.
    • It will have experts from the CPCB, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Civil Society.
  • Powers:
    • In matters of air pollution and air quality management, the Commission will supersede all existing bodies such as the CPCB, and even the state governments of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. It will have the powers to issue directions to the states.
      • CPCB and its State branches have the powers to implement provisions of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 for air, water and land pollution. Their powers continue. However, in case of dispute or a clash of jurisdictions, the Commission’s writ will prevail specific to matters concerning air pollution.
    • The Commission will also coordinate efforts of state governments to curb air pollution, and will lay down the parameters of air quality for the region.
    • It will have powers to restrict the setting up of industries in vulnerable areas, and will be able to conduct site inspections of industrial units.
    • If its directions are contravened, the Commission will have the power to impose a fine of up to Rs. 1 crore and imprisonment of up to 5 years.
  • NGT’s Role:

EPCA vs New Commission

  • Jurisdiction: The EPCA, which was set up in 1998, looked at the NCR; the purview of the new Commission extends to “adjoining areas as well”.
  • Statutory Status: EPCA was not a statutory body but drew legitimacy from the Supreme Court. It did have the authority to issue fines or directions and guidelines to the governments in other states.
    • However, it had no state representatives, just two permanent members.
    • The Commission, on the other hand, will have representation from the state. It is a permanent and statutory body.
  • Performance:
    • Experts say that EPCA has failed miserably in cleaning the air even after being in force for more than 20 years.
      • However, the key contributions of the EPCA include - the notification of the Graded Response Action Plan that lists out measures to be taken in case of worsening pollution, the construction of the Regional Rapid Transport System and early adoption of BS-VI fuel standards, among other measures.
    • The new Commission’s performance will be gauged by changes in the status quo when it comes to ground implementation and strict action on polluters.

Appreciation

  • Jurisdiction: This Commission will specifically look at the Delhi NCR and adjoining areas only.
    • Whereas, the mandate of the CPCB is to serve the whole country.
  • Stubble Burning: A regulatory mechanism for stubble burning is being put into place for the first time.
  • Coordination: Earlier, there was no single body, authority, Ministry or state which was empowered or dedicated to ensure coordination among stakeholder states.

Criticism

  • Overrepresentation of the Central Government:
    • The Commission has a large number of members from the central government, which has not gone down well with the states.
    • States, on the other hand, will have just one member each.
  • Concerns of States: States are not happy with the overarching powers being vested in the Commission.
  • Political differences will also play a part in the functioning of the Commission.
  • Dissolution of EPCA: By forming a new commission, the government has taken the issue of air pollution out of the purview of the judiciary. It has been said that new law is needed when the old one fails. The centre has not even tried implementing old laws fully.
  • Not a air-shed based approach: According to some experts, the Commission is a lost opportunity to explicitly set the ground rules for an air-shed based approach — one that could have been deployed in polluted areas across the country.
    • An air-shed is an area covered by a volume of air that has similar characteristics and is separated from other volumes of air by weather patterns or topography.

Way Forward

  • Legal and regulatory changes to tackle public issues like air pollution, need a democratic conceptualisation.
  • There is a need for the massive augmentation of intra-city public transport, and to move industries, power plants and other users away from polluting fuels like coal to natural gas, electricity and renewable energy to ensure clean combustion.
  • The government should undertake a thorough review of the various laws and institutions in order to look at their efficacy and utility; it must have detailed consultation with all relevant stakeholders, especially those outside Delhi, which includes farmers’ groups and small scale industries and the public at large.

Source: IE

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