Rs. 1cr fine, 5-years prison: Centre brings law against pollution
Days after it apprised the Supreme Court that it would bring a law to deal with the annual menace of air pollution, the Centre on Wednesday got President Ram Nath Kovind to sign an ordinance, that allows the setting up of a commission to look into the air quality in NCR. The commission will form rules and those violating them, will be severely punished.
According to the "Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance 2020," the new body will replace the 22-year-old Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA), which was mandated by SC. Though EPCA took measures, like asking Delhi's public transport vehicles to switch to CNG, it failed to take any strict action against hazardous smoke that blankets NCR in winter months.
The permanent commission, having nearly 20 members, will concern itself with three broad areas — air pollution monitoring, enforcing laws, and research and innovation. This also means that the body will look into pollution-driving factors like stubble burning, vehicular, and dust pollution. Moreover, sub-committees will be formed to handle these three areas, reports News18. The commission will function as a central body.
As per reports, a full-time chairperson, who has served as secretary to the Union Government or as a state's chief secretary, will head the commission. At least ten members of the body will be bureaucrats. The chairperson will be appointed for a period of three years, or until they turn 70, by a selection committee headed by the environment minister, presently Prakash Javadekar.
The ordinance said that in case of a conflict between the orders issued by the state and the commission, the rules laid down by the latter will hold. Violating the body's order will invite a fine of Rs. 1 crore or a jail term of up to five years, or both. The commission was empowered to shut down polluting units and conduct inspections.
Further, the ordinance said that appeals against the orders issued by the commission will only be permissible at the National Green Tribunal. It will work closely with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and ISRO, as well as state governments, and will submit annual reports to the Parliament. As per the ordinance, the body will have exclusive jurisdiction over NCR.
On the new development, Air Quality researcher Polash Mukherjee, said India doesn't lack laws "whether it is about paddy stubble burning, providing subsidies or penalizing the polluter." According to him, the problem is the lack of will to implement the laws. He also said a provision about stubble burning should not just be restricted to Punjab, Haryana, but should consider the entire nation.
Evidently, Delhi is reeling under a heavy blanket of smog, with air quality index being recorded at 392 on Thursday. In the last hearing on the air pollution problem, the CJI-led bench remarked that residents were choking, hence, the Centre's suggestion about forming a law is welcome. It's left to be seen how the new law, which comes into effect immediately, changes the situation.