Former Delhi chief secretary MM Kutty to be chairperson of Air Quality Commission
The Centre has notified the Commission for Air Quality Management for the National Capital Region (NCR) days after it issued an ordinance on October 29 to set up the new agency with sweeping powers to monitor and act against sources of air pollution across five north Indian states. The ordinance empowers the agency to make rules, set emission standards, and slap fines of up to Rs1 crore or imprison violators for up to five years.
In a notification issued on Thursday, the Centre said former Delhi chief secretary MM Kutty will be the Commission’s first chairperson. Kutty is also ex-secretary, ministry of petroleum and natural gas.
In exercise of its powers under the ordinance, a selection panel under Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar’s chairmanship selected Kutty. The panel that also comprises Union ministers Piyush Goyal, Nitin Gadkari, Harsh Vardhan; and cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba has named Arvind Kumar Nautiyal, joint secretary, as the Commission’s full-time member. Professor Mukesh Khare of Indian Institute of Technology Delhi and KJ Ramesh, former director-general of India Meteorological Department, will be the agency’s full-time technical members. Ajay Mathur, the director-general of The Energy and Resources Institute, and Ashish Dhawan of Air Pollution Action Group have been selected as the Commission’s non-government members. Respective state governments will appoint the rest of the agency’s nine ex-officio members.
The rules for the Commission’s functioning are yet to be formulated.
As per the ordinance, the members of the agency have to be drawn from Union ministries, non-governmental organisations and the five states of Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
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 earlier sought time from the court to create a permanent mechanism to tackle the problem.
The Commission replaces all ad hoc committees and bodies created as per court orders. They include the Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution Control Authority that was formed to oversee measures to check air pollution in NCR in 1998.
The air quality in the national capital and across northern plains has since 2015 plunged to hazardous levels around this time of the year because of farm fires, pre-winter meteorological conditions, and festivals when more people crowd markets and use firecrackers.
The Delhi government was on Thursday forced to ban the use of all firecrackers till November 30 as air pollution soared to its worst level in a year. A poisonous blanket of smog engulfed the region as the average air quality index (AQI) slipped to the “severe” category for the first time this season ahead of Diwali when firecrackers are generally used.
The Commission will be a statutory authority with powers to issue directions and take up complaints. It can regulate and prohibit activities likely to cause or increase air pollution. The Commission is empowered to lay down parameters and standards. It can restrict industry, activities, processes as well as direct the closure, or prohibit any polluting activity in Delhi-NCR and adjoining areas.
The new mechanism brings in a completely new, centralised regime of pollution control. Appeals against any order or direction of the Commission can be made only at the National Green Tribunal. No civil court will have jurisdiction to entertain any suit or proceedings against the decisions of the Commission.
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and state pollution control boards will continue to function. But in case of a conflict, the Commission’s orders will prevail.