Headed by a full-time chairperson of secretary-rank or chief secretary-rank bureaucrat, the panel will have three sub-committees — on ‘monitoring and identification’, ‘safeguarding and enforcement’ and ‘research and development’ — to tackle air pollution in Delhi and parts of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and UP.
An ordinance issued on Thursday said the commission, which can send violators to up to 5 years in jail and/or fine them up to Rs 1 crore, will come into force immediately.
Round the year watch on pollution violations
The panel provides for a powerful 17-member commission for air quality management through strict enforcement and mitigation measures, enhanced penalty, better coordination, research, identification and resolution of problems surrounding air quality index of the region referred to as an ‘airshed’.
The Centre hopes a commission that functions round the year will deliver better results than a string of ad hoc measures have been the practice over the past two decades. Any non-compliance or contravention of any provision, rules or order or direction of this statutory commission will be an offence punishable with a jail term up to five years or with fine up to Rs 1 crore or both. Under existing rules, jail term was restricted up to one year and penalty up to Rs 1 lakh. However, such penalties had been used sparingly with hardly any deterrence value. Importantly, the commission’s directions will prevail over state pollution control boards in case of a conflict.
“The move to set up a commission to deal with the issue of air pollution in Delhi-NCR and adjoining areas will be quite effective as it will take care of the entire ‘airshed’. The problem of air pollution is not limited to Delhi alone. It’s an ‘airshed’ issue,” environment minister Prakash Javadekar said while noting that activities in one state affected air quality of other states in the region.
Dealing with the problem through ‘airshed’, consisting of a geographical unit having common flow of air due to topography and meteorological constraints, has long been considered key to addressing the pollution problem as it allows policymakers to take mitigation measures in bigger areas by factoring in all sources of air pollution across states.
Since the commission will have power to take action in all the ‘airshed’ states/ UTs, the new law will be the first regulatory mechanism to deal with the issue of stubble burning that leads to air pollution for 35-40 days during October-November every year. The commission will have power to take mitigation measures, issue directions/orders suo motu and entertain complaints under any existing law such as the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. It will also have power to prohibit activities that are likely to cause or increase air pollution in the NCR and adjoining areas.
This body seeks to replace existing committees and even the Supreme Court-backed 22-year-old Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority in order to streamline public participation, better coordination, enforcement, inter-state cooperation, expert involvement and R&D. Actions and orders made by the EPCA will, however, continue to be effective and deemed to have been done under this ordinance.
The law provides for action against the head of department if the particular department is found guilty of offences and violations of order or direction of the commission.