A day after Hindustan Times reported about the Delhi government's decision to do away the requirement for less polluting industries to obtain permits from the Capital's anti-pollution watchdog, environmentalists on Wednesday wrote to chief minister Arvind Kejriwal warning him of serious repercussions.
The government on its second day in office said the decision was taken only for industries other than those belonging to the 'red' category or highly polluting ones to remove a major stumbling block in easing of doing business in Delhi.
Industries are essentially divided into three categories depending on their pollution level. The red zone is a banned one and a parliamentary clearance is required to set up an industry under this category. The green zone comprises non-polluting units like bakeries, carpentry, hand looms, etc. The orange zone includes units like drugs, electroplating, soaps, dying cloths and tobacco, which release some amounts of effluents, for which treatment plants are mandatory.
Permits from the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) are critical to improving the capital's water and air quality as they are renewed after periodic inspections and ensure that anti-pollution norms are adhered to in the long-term.
"There is a need for an in-depth expert appraisal of the clearance mechanism in vogue at the DPCC to make it as transparent and timely as feasible with least opportunities for man-man interactions (to keep away rent seekers) during the assessment and the monitoring phases of the process, rather than a blanket removal of the environmental approvals itself," wrote Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan (YJA), a group of environmentalists, in its letter to Kejriwal.
"Please do not throw the baby with the wash water. Pollution controls are not dispensable. Such a blanket measure is not in the interest of the city or its residents," said YJA's convener Manoj Misra.
The government said the requirement to take these consents was deterring a large number of traders of small and medium interprises from carrying out their business due to delays, harassment and increase in transaction costs. In its manifesto, the Aam Aadmi Party had promised that no raid will be carried out on any trader and all difficulties will also be removed in doing business if it came to power.
This is despite the fact that the AAP in its manifesto promised to reduce pollution with incentives for low-emission fuels such as CNG and electricity; and a plan for a holistic transport policy, which includes the induction of 5,000 more buses.
"This is an extremely bad move considering the poisonous air we are breathing, and the near-dead state the Yamuna is in," said former Central Pollution Control Board official Mahendra Pandey.
"Also, DPCC exists on the basis of two powerful central Acts to check air and water pollution. The Delhi government does not have the powers in the first place to do away with the requirement to take consent," said Pandey.
Satyendra Jain, who issued the order, holds both industry and health portfolios and the YJA has sought that the environment ministry be clubbed with health.
"The need of environmental norms and clearances has to be seen and strengthened as part of human health imperatives and not any dispensable and unnecessary red tape road block to industrial growth or human development as has in recent times often been branded by the vested interests, sometimes even by people who ought to know and act much better," said the YJA.
Misra said often these clearances have been converted into rent seeking mechanisms (corruption) by the unscrupulous elements within the state machinery.
"So, the problem needs to be tackled at its root cause and not superficially by doing away with the requirement itself."
In Delhi, there are hardly any large industries. Some of the medium-scale polluting enterprises in the capital are those of metal recycling, plastic, electronic, perfume, and leather products. The number of total small and medium enterprises with limited investments, and registered in Delhi is 1,577 with 1,313 in manufacturing and the rest in services. But the actual number is much high.
Air pollution has been a huge cause for concern especially the quantum of extremely small particles - that can enter our lungs when we breathe - which cause several risks has been on the rise, several times the standards.
In 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) rated Delhi as the world's most polluted city, ahead of Karachi, Peshawar, Xining and Beijing.