From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Mandate of the commission
Mains level : Air pollution in Delhi
The President of India has signed the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance, 2020.
Try this question from CS Mains 2015:
Q.Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata are the three megacities of the country but the air pollution is a much more serious problem in Delhi as compared to the other two. Why is this so?
About the Ordinance
- The Ordinance seeks to create an overarching body to consolidate all monitoring bodies and to bring them on one platform so air quality management can be carried out in a more comprehensive, efficient, and time-bound manner.
- It came within days of the hearing in ‘Aditya Dubey vs Union of India’ in the court of the CJI, where Solicitor General had indicated the setting up of such a Commission.
Why has the central government set up this Commission?
- The monitoring and management of air quality in the Delhi NCR region have been done piecemeal by multiple bodies including the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the adjacent state PCBs and state governments.
- They, in turn, are monitored by the Environment Ministry, and the Supreme Court itself, which monitors air pollution as per the judgment in ‘M C Mehta vs Union of India’, 1988.
Consolidating the efforts
- The Centre seeks to relieve the Supreme Court from having to constantly monitor pollution levels through various pollution-related cases.
- The body indicates the central government’s push to bring all stakeholders on one platform.
- This is important because the management of air pollution in Delhi NCR will involve controlling stubble-burning (Agriculture Ministry and state governments), and the control of industrial emissions (Commerce and Industries Ministry), etc.
About the Commission
- The Commission, which will be a permanent body, will have over 20 members and will be chaired by a retired official of the level of Secretary to the GoI or Chief Secretary of a state.
- It will include a representative of the Secretary of the MoEFCC, five Secretary level officers who will be ex officio members and two joint secretary-level officers who will be full-time members.
- The Commission will also have representation from the CPCB, ISRO, air pollution experts, and three representatives of non-government organisations (NGOs).
- As associate members, the Commission will have representatives from various other Ministries including the Ministries of Agriculture, Petroleum, Power, Transport, Housing etc.
Power and functions
- In matters of air pollution and air quality management, the Commission will supersede all existing bodies.
- It will have the powers to issue directions to the states.
- The Commission will also coordinate efforts of state governments to curb air pollution, and will lay down the parameters of air quality for the region.
- It will have powers to restrict the setting up of industries in vulnerable areas and will be able to conduct site inspections of industrial units.
- The Commission will have some penal powers.
- If its directions are contravened, through say, the setting up of an industrial unit in a restricted area, the Commission will have the power to impose a fine of up to Rs 1 crore and imprisonment of up to 5 years.
Wasn’t EPCA effective?
- The one body with powers similar to the new Commission’s was the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA).
- 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, however, 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.
How is the new commission expected to alter the situation?
- By forming a new commission, the government has taken the issue of air pollution out of the purview of the judiciary.
- As per the Ordinance, only NGT, and not civil courts, is authorised to hear cases where the commission is involved.
- The central government has got itself out of the clutch of Supreme Court and closed down SC-appointed EPCA.
- The Commission has a large number of members from the central government, which has not gone down well with the states.
- It is full of officials from the central government. Taking away any say from the state government is not the way to go further.
- Also, 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.