Experts and clean air activists on Thursday welcomed the Centre’s decision to set up a commission to tackle air pollution in Delhi-NCR but hoped for better implementation of its decisions and orders.
The Centre has issued an ordinance making pollution an offense with a jail term up to five years and a penalty up to Rs one crore. It was issued on Wednesday night after the approval of the President.
According to the notification, the commission will replace the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) which was earlier formed by the Supreme Court as the apex monitoring body in matters of pollution.
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EPCA Chairman Bhure Lal, in a statement, said: “We welcome this move as it clearly shows the intent and determination of the Union government to mitigate toxic pollution in the region. As chairman and one of the members of the now-dissolved EPCA, we would like to place on record our gratitude for the opportunity given to us to address air pollution challenges.”
Arun Duggal, Founder of the Centre of Excellence for Research and Clean Air at IIT-Delhi, also welcomed the step and hoped that the Commission would be fully empowered and include representatives from the government, the scientific community, business, industry, civil society, and citizens.
“I also recommend that commission must review its own performance objectively on annual basis about their contribution in reducing air pollution and results achieved,” Duggal told IANS.
Sunil Dahiya, analyst, Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, said that the major issue with the ordinance will be when it comes to implementation, as the 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 is 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 strict action on polluters or not,” Dahiya added.
Aditya Dubey, a young environmentalist from Delhi, said: “Grateful to (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi and (Environment Minister) Prakash Javadekar for the speedy enactment of this law creating a very powerful commission for tackling air pollution and stubble burning. I would request them to appoint the chairperson today and get it functioning so that it can defend us from the Covid-19 explosion waiting to happen.”
Third-year law student Aman Banka, who along with Dubey, has been fighting a case against stubble burning in the Supreme Court, said: “We welcome the new executive order for the formation of a committee to enact a new law on air pollution. We hope for better implementation.”
The ordinance, which proposes to set up a permanent body to monitor air quality in the NCR comes just days after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta informed the Supreme Court that the Centre will enact a law to combat the menace of air pollution in Delhi-NCR.
According to the ordinance, a Commission for Air Quality Management will be set up for the National Capital Region (NCR) and adjoining areas in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan, and will look into issues of stubble burning, vehicular pollution, dust pollution, and all other factors, which contribute towards deteriorating air quality in Delhi-NCR.
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“Any non-compliance of this Ordinance, rules made thereunder or any other order or direction issued by the Commission shall be an offense punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend up to five years or with fine which may extend up to one crore rupees or with both,” said the ordinance.
The Commission will be headed by a full-time Chairperson who has been a Secretary in the Central Government or Chief Secretary of a state. The Chairperson will be selected by a committee headed by the Environment and Forest Minister and comprising the Transport, Commerce, and Science and Technology Minister as well as the Cabinet Secretary as members.
Out of the Commission’s 18 members, 10 will be bureaucrats while others will be experts and activists.
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One of the important aspects of the Commission is that the Centre has proposed to replace the Supreme Court-appointed EPCA and all other bodies with it, which will make this Commission an exclusive authority on air quality management for Delhi-NCR, and it will submit annual reports to Parliament.
Orders of the Commission can be challenged only before the National Green Tribunal and not in any civil court. (IANS)