Lack of funds, staff hamper SC-backed pollution monitoring agency’s work powers
The EPCA has very few active members and lacks dedicated central funding. At best, it can request for vehicles or a couple of support staff from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).Updated: Nov 08, 2019 11:09 IST
The Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) is empowered to shut down industries, thermal power plants and other polluting sources. It can also take suo moto action against any pollution in the national capital region (NCR).
But it doesn’t.
The main reasons why EPCA has not utilised these powers is because it has very few active members and lacks dedicated central funding. At best, it can request for vehicles or a couple of support staff from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
Since EPCA does not have the capacity to oversee implementation of its directions on ground, it focuses on the regulatory framework of pollution-control in NCR through long-term and emergency actions such as the graded response action plan (GRAP).
It brings instances of pollution sources to the court, such diesel emission from thousands of non-destined trucks plying through Delhi, plastic and rubber being burnt in industrial areas and the need for BS IV and BS VI standards.
Among its most significant interventions were converting Delhi’s public transport to compressed natural gas (CNG) in 1998, phasing out polluting fuels such as pet coke and furnace oil from industries and imposing pollution charge on old polluting trucks.
EPCA has wide ranging powers under section 5 of the environment protection act 1986. These include the power to direct the closure, prohibition or regulation of any industry, operation or process; or stoppage or regulation of the supply of electricity or water or any other service to the polluter.
It can take suo moto action on complaints, take steps to ensure compliance with vehicle standards, and enter, inspect and seize material from premises of polluters.
After the deadly pollution spike last week, some questioned the EPCA’s importance. “EPCA has worked so well that under its watch Delhi has become one of the world’s most polluted cities. Powerful on paper, EPCA has lately been weak in wielding the stick,” tweeted an environmental law firm.
Its easier said than done, says EPCA chairman Bhure Lal. “We are a three or four man army. How can we make these directions directly and then stand before the court every time a direction is challenged? It’s not possible. I have no technical persons, legal persons or field workers to support our work,” Bhure Lal said.
“EPCA has no dedicated funds as such. But they have been very active submitting a well-researched report every two months,” said a CPCB official who didn’t wish to be named.
“They have prepared some good reports on pollution sources which were submitted to SC. They may have powers under the law but they have no people. Two or three active members cannot do so much,” said B Sengupta, former CPCB member secretary.
An EPCA office bearer said three members are most active while the remaining 17 attend meetings on and off. All members, including Bhure Lal, do not draw any remuneration from the Centre.
“The meetings are on week days, mostly between 11 am and 3pm when I have to take classes so I am not able to attend often. EPCA is a legal authority. It has to report to the Supreme Court,” said Mukesh Khare, IIT Delhi professor and member of EPCA. Ajay Mathur, director general of TERI, who is also a member, was unavailable for a comment.
A note by amicus to SC in the MC Mehta case on air pollution, Harish Salve, shows EPCA’s term was extended 20 times by the Centre from 1998, with some terms as short as three months. The environment ministry last tear reconstituted EPCA with a number of independent members from TERI, Centre for Policy Research and Council on Energy, Environment and Water.
“EPCA has prioritised specific issues like vehicular pollution, pet coke and more recently thermal power standards some of which have had nationwide policy implications. However, the critical mandate taking suo moto action, responding to citizen’s complaints or regulating polluting infrastructure development has definitely not realised its potential,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher at Centre for Policy Research.