IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

New Delhi’s air: role, powers, what’s new

31st October, 2020 Environment

Context: With the President signing the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance, 2020, a statutory authority to track and combat air pollution in and around the National Capital Region has come into existence.

  • The Commission, will supersede bodies such as the central and state pollution control boards of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, UP and Rajasthan and will have the powers to issue directions to these state governments on issues pertaining to air pollution.

What does it change on the ground?

  • Earlier the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) was there with the similar powers.
  • It was not a statutory body but drew legitimacy from the Supreme Court, which has been looking at cases of air pollution as part of the judgment in M C Mehta vs Union of India (1988).
  • The EPCA was not supported by a legal framework in the form of a law.
  • It did have the authority to issue fines or directions and guidelines to the governments in other states. It had no state representatives, just two permanent members.
  • The Commission, on the other hand, will have representation from the state.

What is the role of the Commission vis-à-vis states?

  • State as well as central bodies will not have jurisdiction over matters related to air pollution.
  • “No other individual, or body, or authority, constituted either under the law enacted by Parliament or by state government or nominated in terms of judicial order shall act upon or have jurisdiction in relation to the matters covered by this ordinance.
  • Commission will look at coordination between states, planning and execution of policy and interventions, operations of industry, inspections, research into the causes of pollution etc.
  • Ordinance means that the power to issue fines may also lie with the new Commission.

State view:

  • Commission will erase the relevance of state pollution control bodies since they do not have the powers to make any autonomous decisions anymore.
  • The Ordinance seems to have taken the power away from state pollution control bodies when it comes to issues of air pollution.
  • In case the directions issued by a state and the Commission clash, the decision of the Commission will be implemented.

How does it help?

  • It doesn’t automatically guarantee action on the ground.
  • By forming a new commission, the government has taken the issue of air pollution out of the purview of the judiciary.
  • It’s just strategy to self-empower and stay relevant or truly address the crisis.
  • As per the Ordinance, only NGT, and not civil courts, is authorised to hear cases where the commission is involved.

What are the challenges?

  • According to the Ordinance, the committee has been formed to do away with “ad-hoc measures” and to replace them to “streamline participation” from states and experts.
  • The Commission has a large number of members from the central government, which has not gone down well with the states.
  • Political differences will also now play a part in the functioning of the Commission because states are not happy with the overarching powers being vested in it.