Faced with rising air pollution in Delhi-NCR, the Centre has introduced a new law through an ordinance that puts in place a powerful oversight body and provides for up to five years of jail term and Rs one crore fine for violators with immediate effect. Under the ordinance released by the Ministry of Law and Justice on Thursday, the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) has been dissolved and replaced by a commission comprising over 20 members. “The ordinance may be called the Commission for Air Quality Management In National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance 2020. It shall apply to national capital region and also adjoining areas in so far as it relates to matters concerning air pollution in the NCR. It shall come into force at once,” it said. The ordinance was signed by the president on Wednesday. As per the ordinance, the areas where it shall be in force include Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, adjoining areas of the NCR and Delhi where any source of pollution is located which is causing an adverse impact on air quality in the national capital region. The commission will have the power to lay down parameters of air quality, discharge of environmental pollutants, inspect premises violating the law, ordering closure of non-abiding industries/plants etc. “Any non-compliance or contravention of any provisions/rules or order/direction of the commission will be an offence punishable with a jail term up to five years or with fine up to Rs one crore or with both,” it said.
The ordinance comes within days of a statement made by the Centre through Solicitor General Tushar Mehta in the Supreme Court during a matter related to pollution in the NCR in which he had said the Centre will bring a new legislation on “Air Quality Management in the National capital Region and adjoining areas”. The Centre informed the Supreme Court on Thursday that it has come out with an Ordinance on curbing pollution and it has been promulgated already. As per the new law, the Supreme Court appointed body, EPCA which was formed in 1998, has been dissolved and any action taken by it shall be deemed to have been taken under the corresponding provisions of the ordinance. “The order made under environment protection act 1986, constituting Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) For the national capital region wide order dated January 29, 1998, is hereby repealed and the EPCA is here by dissolved. “Notwithstanding such repeal, anything done or any action taken by the EPCA for the NCR under the said order, shall be deemed to have been taken under the corresponding provisions of this ordinance, it said. The EPCA was a two-member body with Chairman Bhure Lal and member Sunita Narain, who also heads the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), an environment think tank. The members of the new commission as per the ordinance shall include a chairperson, who is or has been the secretary of Government of India or chief secretary of a state, a representative of environment secretary and five ex-officio members who are either chief secretaries or secretaries in charge of the environment department of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
The commission will also include two full time members who have been joint secretaries to the central government, three full-time independent technical members who have specific scientific knowledge regarding air pollution, one technical member from Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), one technical member nominated by ISRO and three members of NGOs having experience in matters concerning combating of air pollution. “There shall be a full-time secretary who shall be the chief coordinating officer of the commission and shall assist in managing the affairs of the commission,” it said. Other than these, the commission may also appoint associate members, one representative each from the Ministry of Road Transport, Ministry of Power, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Ministry of Petroleum, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Commerce and Industry and a representative of any association of commerce and industry. The chairperson will hold the post for three years or until she/he attains the age of 70 years. The commission will have three sub-committees, one each for monitoring and identification, safeguarding and enforcement, and research and development. The commission will have power to take mitigation measures, issue directions/orders suo moto and entertain complaints under any other existing laws such as the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. It will have the power to prohibit activities that are likely to cause or increase air pollution in the NCR and adjoining areas.