The LexGaze Weekly - DECIPHER

Ordinance promulgated to fix Air quality- Here only to dash our hopes?

Aishwary Jaiswal

Issue 20 | November 01, 2020

In a tussle to curb and repress the age-old and persistent problem of air pollution in the National Capital Region (NCR), the Centre has come up with a law through an ordinance.

The law comes a week after US President Donald Trump calls India and its air “filthy” during the final round of the 2020 United States presidential debates. The law has come into force without obtaining the ‘speedy’ blessings of the legislature.

President Kovind signed the ordinance titled ‘The Commission for air quality management in National Capital Region and adjoining areas, 2020’ on Wednesday, and the same was released by the Ministry of Law and Justice on Thursday. The law entails setting up an 18 member-commission with legal powers to keep a check on the disturbing issue of lasting air pollution in the capital region.

The body in question will have jurisdiction over adjoining regions- the states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and other neighbouring areas where any source of pollution may be found adversely affecting the air quality in the National Capital Region.

Concerned about the ordinance and the Commission to be established under the same, Sunil Dahiya (a Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air analyst) said, “EPCA had almost similar powers but failed miserably in cleaning the air even after being in force for more than 20 years. The question of whether it’s a positive move or just a distraction and wasteful exercise will be decided on the fact whether the ordinance changes the status quo when it comes to ground implementation and action on polluters or not.”

The commission will include a full-time chairperson, who has been a secretary of The Government of India or chief secretary of any state, a secretary, eight associate members from various ministries, two full-time members (who have been joint secretaries to the Central Government), three full-time members (having specific scientific knowledge regarding air pollution), one technical member from the Central Pollution Control Board, one technical member from ISRO, and three members from NGOs experienced in matters concerning air pollution.

The Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas is likely to replace several pollution-related ad hoc committees including the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) formed in 1998 after a Supreme Court order. The Commission will have three sub-committees –on monitoring and identification, safeguarding and enforcement, and research and development– to help the body tackle the problem of air pollution.

The ordinance comes with punitive provisions, too. Under the law, the Commission will have the authority to seize and search under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and also issue a warrant. The Commission can also impose a penalty of ₹ 1 crore and/or a five-year jail term to the parties infringing the air pollution norms. Besides having the power to take mitigation measures, issue suo moto orders and directions, and take into consideration complaints under any other existing laws, the Commission will also have the capacity to restrain activities that are likely to cause/increase air pollution in the NCR and adjoining areas.

It would be wrong, however, to conclude that the ordinance is yet another one of those cheap tricks of the government. But, on the other hand, witness to history, a commission with punitive powers has never been enough in any field. What is required is actual political willingness and commitment.

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