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New commission meets for first time, advises minimal use of personal vehicles

PUBLISHED ON NOV 10, 2020 12:03 AM IST

New Delhi: The newly formed Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas urged people to minimise use of personal vehicles as much as possible immediately, even as pollution levels in the region continued to touch toxic levels.

Responding to the air quality crisis in Delhi-NCR, the commission headed by former Delhi chief secretary MM Kutty held its first meeting on Monday, where it urged people to take 10 immediate measures, including minimising personal travel, restricting travel unless absolutely essential, and encouraging working-from-home.

The panel also urged that rules regarding dust control measures be enforced strictly, apart from ensuring municipal solid waste and biomass are not burnt.

These apart, the commission, the six members of which were constituted last week, advised that water sprinkling be intensified, particularly in dust prone areas, anti-smog guns be used at pollution hotspots especially at construction sites, court orders on stubble burning and use of fire crackers be adhered to. It also sought co-operation from civil society and citizens to report air pollution incidents on the Sameer App and encouraged industries in NCR to minimise the use of coal in the coming months.

The commission, formed last month, will be a statutory authority that replaces the 22-year-old Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution Control Authority (Epca).

The four full-time and 2 NGO members, selected by a panel of Union cabinet ministers last week, reviewed the air quality scenario in the region, actions taken by various agencies so far and further steps to be taken for improving the air quality.

The Commission noted that future action will necessitate consultation with various stakeholders, stressing the need to strictly enforce existing laws, rules, guidelines, directions and standard operating procedures to minimize air pollution on an emergency basis.

It is, however, unclear if measures under the Graded Response Action Plan (Grap) will be implemented.

Under the plan, if similar air quality persists in Delhi for another day, the Centre will have to impose a number of stringent measures such as stopping all construction activities, introducing the Odd-Even road space-rationing scheme, and stopping the entry of trucks into the city completely.

These “severe+” or emergency measures are implemented when ambient PM2.5 or PM10 concentration values of 300 micrograms per cubic metres or 500 micrograms per cubic metres respectively persist for 48 hours or more.

According to the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) Grap monitor, Delhi has been heading towards “severe +” since 8pm on Sunday in terms of both PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations.

“I am not sure about the Grap measures. The task force of CPCB and IMD [India Meteorological Department] members used to meet and brief Epca on the measures to be taken. Now that’s not happening so I am not sure if severe + interventions will be implemented. The Commission may take it up,” said a senior CPCB official who asked not to be named.

RP Gupta, secretary, Union environment ministry had earlier said told the media Grap will be implemented as Epca did earlier.

Commission members didn’t respond to HT’s calls requesting clarification on the implementation of the action plan on Monday.

“Even as questions around the jurisdiction and composition of the Commission remain, it will be important that some of these are addressed in its working, including the methodology of public engagement that is adopted. The commission and its three sub-committees can push for more public spirited and inclusive mechanisms on how various matters related to air pollution are addressed. Air pollution is an evocative public issue, and it would be important not to only address it through closed door meetings and negotiations,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher, Centre for Policy Research.

The Centre issued an ordinance on October 29 to set up the new centralised agency with sweeping powers to monitor and act against sources of air pollution across five north Indian states. The ordinance was issued days after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the Supreme Court that the Centre will “do everything on a war footing to curb air pollution”.

The Centre had earlier sought time from the top court to create a permanent mechanism to tackle the problem.

The Commission replaces all ad-hoc committees and bodies created as per court orders, including Epca, which was formed in 1998 to oversee measures to check air pollution in NCR.

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