Air pollution: Centre issues ordinance to form new commission to replace EPCA
The commission has an objective of implementing a consolidated approach to monitoring, tackling and eliminating causes of air pollution in Delhi-NCR by coordinating with state governmentsUpdated: Oct 29, 2020, 16:28 IST
The union environment ministry has published “The Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Area Ordinance” on Thursday for air pollution control in Delhi-NCR.
The commission has an objective of implementing a consolidated approach to monitoring, tackling and eliminating causes of air pollution in Delhi-NCR by coordinating with state governments.
The commission will be a statutory authority that will replace the 22-year-old Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) which has introduced several important interventions to control pollution. Among their most significant intervention was converting all public transport in Delhi to compressed natural gas (CNG) in 1998, phasing out polluting fuels like pet coke and furnace oil from industries and imposing pollution charge on old polluting trucks.
The commission will have appropriate powers which can act against air pollution on a war footing and will coordinate with the NCR states and central government. It will have the power to issue directions to various statutory authorities established under various laws. The ordinance says that based on court orders, various ad hoc committees like the EPCA were formed to assist courts in implementation of its orders but the new commission may subsume them.
The ordinance says that due to absence of an inter-sectoral, public participative, multi-state body, the SC has had to devote “its precious time in constituting various ad hoc and permanent committees at various stages,” and it has been supervising and guiding the air pollution problem in NCR through the MC Mehta Vs Union of India case.
The new commission, however, will function completely under the aegis and supervision of the central government. It will have members from all NCR states and the Central Pollution Control Board; from associated ministries like petroleum and natural gas, agriculture, commerce etc. The commission will have powers to take decisions and act against pollution sources under various environmental laws, like the environment protection act and air act.
A senior environment ministry official confirmed that the ordinance will be submitted to Supreme Court on Thursday.
“Its a good thing that has happened. Government of India is serious about air pollution now. We welcome the ordinance. We will issue a statement soon,” said Bhure Lal, head, EPCA.
“There are several concerns with this ordinance, starting with the fact that legal and regulatory changes to tackle public issues like air pollution need a democratic conceptualisation. At the outset it is clear that the central government has taken control over the pollution control matters in the Delhi NCR region. This starts with the fact that the chairperson of this commission is a central government-appointee. The commission will be heavily dominated by bureaucrats, to whom the legal frameworks gives various powers. The enforcement mechanism is clearly top down and so far there is no indication that it will include third party monitoring and citizen-driven enforcement,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher, Centre for Policy Research, about the ordinance.
“One important issue is limiting the adjudication to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and not any other court. This is problematic as the appointments of the Chairperson and Members of both the Commission and the NGT will be led by the MoEFCC. Also, the ordinance cannot take away the powers of courts to adjudicate on matters related to pollution. The new ordinance will BE yet another distraction, just like the government’s previous attempts with action plans or appointment to new members to the EPCA. It does not address the root causes and legacy of pollution control and abatement in the country. Almost all contributing sectors have these, and need to be built in to any new strategy to address pollution in the NCR. We have to move away from treating pollution as a mere technocratic and legal matter,” she added.