Implementation of critical air pollution solutions pending, Epca tells SC

The Centre informed the top court on Monday that it has drafted a comprehensive law to control air pollution, especially in the Delhi-NCR region. This triggered speculation that a new agency or body created by the government could replace Epca.
A hazy sky on Wednesday morning in Delhi.(Sanchit Khanna/HT Photo)
A hazy sky on Wednesday morning in Delhi.(Sanchit Khanna/HT Photo)
Updated on Oct 29, 2020 04:35 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByJayashree Nandi, New Delhi

Two days after the Centre told the Supreme Court that it was coming up with a composite law to tackle air pollution in the Capital, the apex court-mandated Environment Pollution Control Authority (Epca) released a copy of a September 11 report it had submitted to the court .

“The September 11 Epca report is the first status report on actions taken and those that remain to be taken in Delhi-NCR on air pollution; it was submitted to a new bench that took over the matter. Between September 11 and now, two more short, issue-specific reports on crop stubble fires and diesel vehicles were submitted to inform the apex court on what needs to be done,” said an Epca member who did not want to be named.

“This report is being shared now because most action in Delhi-NCR has been taken based on SC orders, including enforcement of pollution control in hot spots, implementation of radio-frequency identification technology, closing of thermal power plants in NCR, the closure of Badarpur power plant in Delhi, implementation of graded response action plan and the Comprehensive Action Plan. Now what remains is very stringent enforcement to meet the air pollution crisis. We do not want to comment on anything else,” the member added.

The Centre informed the top court on Monday that it has drafted a comprehensive law to control air pollution, especially in the Delhi-NCR region. This triggered speculation that a new agency or body created by the government could replace Epca.

During Monday’s hearing, the Supreme Court suspended its order issued on October 16 appointing former apex court judge Madan B Lokur in a one-man committee to enforce strict ban on stubble burning in Delhi’s neighbouring states Haryana, Punjab and also Uttar Pradesh (UP). The order was “kept in abeyance” by a three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, after solicitor general (S-G) Tushar Mehta informed the court about the new law.

On Wednesday, senior environment ministry officials said the new law proposed by the Centre will pave the way for the creation of a new commission for air pollution control in Delhi-NCR.

“We cannot say at this time if it will replace Epca because Epca was created by SC. We also cannot say how the new body will impact the role of CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board). Those details will be in court very soon,” a senior environment ministry official who did not want to be named said.

RP Gupta, secretary, environment ministry, said: “I cannot divulge any details about the law or the commission until it’s in court. I have not said anything about Epca being replaced. We have to wait a few more days.”

Santosh Harish, fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, said: “Air quality management in India, and NCR in particular, is certainly to be tackled at the regional ‘airshed’ level. If this legislation leads to institutional changes to accomplish this, it would well set a blueprint for other parts of the country. That would be progress. But Epca (a statutory body created in 1998 with a similar mandate and significant powers) and the Comprehensive Action Plan in 2018 have attempted to do exactly this.”

In the September 11 report, Epca noted that the top court has already passed directions on all large sources of air pollution. A Comprehensive Action Plan (CAP) aimed at reducing air pollution levels was notified by the Union environment ministry in 2018 following the court’s directions but it is yet to be implemented by the ministry completely, the report suggested.

Epca has recommended that the environment ministry expedite the implementation of the plan through augmentation of public transport, non-motorised transport and inter- and intra-NCR transport connectivity. This includes time-bound and urgent implementation of the apex court’s directions, also specified in CAP, on the Phase IV of the Delhi Metro, construction of the different phases of Regional Rapid Transit System (RRTs), which will provide seamless connectivity between NCR towns, and the augmentation of buses in Delhi.

In its report, Epca referred to findings of an emissions inventory for Delhi developed by the ministry of earth sciences based on data from 2018. It has found that there has been a 40% increase in vehicular pollution between 2010 and 2018 in the Delhi-NCR region and that vehicles contribute to around 41% of the pollution in the national capital.

Reducing emissions from vehicles requires further restraint on trucks entering Delhi and on ensuring that there is reduction in overall personal vehicle and that even taxi use is controlled through expanded bus and metro services, the Epca report said.

The inventory also showed that 1.1 million vehicles entered Delhi every day at just eight entry points including trucks, taxis and personal vehicles which underscores that the entire NCR region requires better connectivity through public transport.

The inventory has also found that industrial pollution contributes around 18% of Delhi’s particulate pollution and industrial emissions have increased by 48% between 2010 and 2018 in the region. Epca said this was because burning of coal is rampant and requires enforcement of the sulphur dioxide (SO2) emission standards for industries and thermal power plants issued following directions by the top court.

Santosh Harish said for a new authority to be more successful, it will have to be well-funded, well-staffed, endowed with multi-sectoral technical expertise, and have representation from all the state and local governments, relevant Union ministries, and the civil society. “We don’t yet know why this needs new legislation, and how this legislation will interact with existing laws like the Air Act and the Environment Protection Act,” Harish said.

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