The government on Wednesday notified new national air quality standards but failed to outline how they would be implemented. The norms were last set 15 years ago. New quality standards
<b1>In the new standards, the earlier distinction between residential and industrial areas — with pollution norms for the latter less stringent than the former — has been done away with. The earlier standards for residential areas have been extended to industrial areas as well.
Six new pollutants, which were not measured earlier, will also be monitored from now on. They include ozone gas, arsenic, nickel and benzene.
“Enforcing these norms would be a challenge,” said Jairam Ramesh, minister for environment and forests. “Smaller industrial units will face major problem as the bigger ones already meet European norms,” said Seema Arora, head of clean technologies division, Confederation of Indian Industry.
Unlike Europe, where failing to meet clean air norms leads to penalties, India’s Environment Protection Act doesn’t provide any such clause to empower local bodies to impose them. “Enforcing new norms on local bodies would depend on political will of state governments,” said Rajneesh Dubey, joint secretary, environment ministry.
As per pollution watchdog Central Pollution Control Board’s ambient air quality report for 2008, 88 per cent of 110 Indian cities monitored don’t comply with suspended particulate matter (or PM 10) as per even the old standards. “Not a single city monitored will now meet the new standards for PM 10. Only half would meet standards for oxides of nitrogen NOX,” said S.P. Gautam, Central Pollution Control Board chairman.
Sunita Narain, Director of Centre for Science and Environment, termed the new norms a good beginning but wanted the governments to act fast. Delhi has over 55 lakh vehicles in 2009, double from the 1991 figure. It has resulted in air pollution level rising meaning the CNG gains have been lost. “Annual sales of vehicles are increasing at a rate of 10 per cent every year and capacity of our cities roads has not improved. It has resulted in more congestion and higher air pollution,” Narain said.