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Wednesday, Sep 18, 2019

Pollution crisis: EPCA for district-level nodal officers to bring down response time

The panel would soon write to the chief secretaries of the NCR states to designate officers. When pollution peaks, EPCA will send directions to these officers to implement emergency measures

delhi Updated: Nov 28, 2017 12:50 IST
Winter pollution is a major problem in northern India.
Winter pollution is a major problem in northern India.(Sanjeev Verma/HT PHOTO)

To reduce reaction time government agencies take to introduce emergency measures when pollution hits severe and severe-plus levels in the National Capital Region, the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority will seek appointment of nodal officers at the district level.

The Supreme Court-appointed panel would soon write to the chief secretaries of the NCR states to designate officers in each district. When pollution hits severe-plus levels, EPCA would send directions to these officers so that emergency measures can kick in without delay.

“We are trying to develop a standard operating procedure in which the chief secretaries would be asked to nominate district magistrates or collectors as the nodal officer in each NCR district. EPCA’s will issue directions to these nodal officers so that emergency measures can be implemented immediately. We are trying to standardise the drill,” said Sunita Narain, a member of EPCA.

Currently, when air pollution hits severe levels, the EPCA has to wait and monitor for 48 hours before it can issue directions to implement emergency measures. Once EPCA issues the directions, the Delhi government holds a meeting with the Lieutenant Governor to discuss the issue. Once it is cleared, the state government comes up with its own orders, which are then implemented. In the NCR states, the chief secretaries issue the orders based on EPCA’s directions.

In the first week of November when the air quality started deteriorating and some drastic measures had to be introduced, it took at least 24 hours for the state governments to issue orders and implement them on the ground.

“We received directions from the EPCA one evening. The next day, the chief secretary held a meeting with the top officials and issued the orders. It took another day to implement them,” said a senior Haryana government official.

In a similar move, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had on November 17 directed Delhi and neighbouring states to frame an action plan that will kick in automatically when air quality deteriorates to severe levels.

The NGT move was expected to end a long process that involves the EPCA passing orders when the air quality turns severe. State governments and other agencies then pass their own orders to enforce pollution control measures under the Centre’s Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP).

To get some headroom to minimise the impact of foul air, both the Central Pollution Control Board and the EPCA have urged the India Meteorological Department to give them prior intimation about dust storms in West Asia and tropical cyclones in the Bay of Bengal, both of which have a bearing on the city’s air.

“We hope to bring down time gap, the next time it becomes necessary to introduce emergency measures. While on one hand we hope to receive advance alerts from the MeT department, on the other hand we are trying to come up with a system in which EPCA’s directions can go directly to the district magistrates,” said Narain.

First Published: Nov 27, 2017 23:50 IST