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President signs Ordinance to fight Delhi air pollution

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on October 29, 2020 Published on October 29, 2020

Move paves way for Commission; experts say ‘polluter pays’ principle diluted

President Ram Nath Kovind has signed an ordinance for setting up a Commission for concerted and effective action to address the worsening air pollution problem in Delhi and neighbouring areas.

The Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance 2020 to be headed by an official at the level of secretary to the Government of India replaces the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) for the NCR, constituted in 1998 and has been working closely with the Supreme Court and other judicial bodies, said the Ministry of Law and Justice in a notification.

However, any action taken by EPCA will be retained under the provisions of the new ordinance, it said.

EPCA Chairman Bhure Lal and Member Sunita Narain, in a letter to the Minister of Environment and Forests Prakash Javadekar, listed a range of measures which were implemented by various agencies under the instructions of the apex court to improve air quality in the NCR region over the years.

They also forwarded a slew of measures which are still to be implemented and hoped that the Commission would take them forward. Among them are an effective parking policy for Delhi and other NCR cities, augmenting bus fleet in Delhi, banning use of imported pet coke in steel industry and controlling stubble burning. The government notification said if there is a conflict or issue between the Commission and any of the five State governments in the region (Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh), the decision of the Commission would prevail.

Panel members

The 18-member Commission would be headed by a full-time chairperson, a serving or retired Secretary to the Government of India or a State chief secretary , a joint secretary or higher rank official from the Environment Ministry and chief secretaries or environment secretaries from the five States as ex-officio members.

The Commission will also have three full-time independent technical experts and three representatives from NGOs. The Commission can also co-opt associate members not below the ranks of Joint Secretary from Ministries of Agriculture, House and Urban Affairs, Power, Rod Transport and Highways and Petroleum and Natural Gas.

However, experts have questioned the rationale for keeping penal provisions of the ordinance so low.

“So far as punishment is concerned, it may seem progressive that the non-compliance or contravention will invite five-year imprisonment or/and up to ₹1 crore. However, in reality it puts a limit on the fine that can be imposed and contradicts the polluter-pays principle,” said Ritwick Dutta, a leading lawyer, and Founder of Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment.

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Published on October 29, 2020
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