The Union surroundings ministry has constituted the Commission for Air Quality Management in NCR and Adjoining Areas, picking former Delhi chief secretary MM Kutty as its chairperson, even as the Supreme Court on Friday asked the Centre to verify there was once no smog in the national capital region amid sliding air quality.
But even so Kutty, who is a former secretary of the ministry of petroleum and natural gas, professor Mukesh Khare, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, and Ramesh KJ, ex-director general, India Meteorological Branch (IMD), were appointed as full-time technical members of the commission, according to a notification issued on Thursday.
On October 29, the Union government issued an ordinance and put in place the new anti-pollution agency with sweeping powers spanning five northern states where it’s going to monitor and act against sources of air pollution. The panel has replaced all ad hoc committees and bodies created under court orders, including the SC-appointed surroundings pollution keep watch over authority (Epca).
In the Supreme Court on Thursday, a bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde and justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian posted petitions related to air pollution for hearing after the Diwali vacation. Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, informed the bench that the new commission will begin functioning from Friday after the government appointed its members.
“The only object is that you make certain that there’s no smog in the city. We aren’t concerned with commission. There are lots of commissions and lots of brains are working but just make certain that there’s no smog in the city,” the bench said. Mehta replied that government is taking all efforts on war footing.
Six full-time members of the commission took charge on Friday, a day after the air quality index stood at 450 in the “severe” category, the season’s worst so far. A layer of smog blanketed the Capital on Friday, too, with the average AQI over the preceding 24 hours at 406 in the “severe” category.
Experts said that a delay in the commission’s functioning at this a very powerful juncture, when the air quality starts sliding with the approaching winter, could hamper the efforts of keep watch over air pollution ahead of Diwali. Over the recent years, unlawful use of firecrackers in the Delhi-NCR region has resulted in worsening of the situation, with poisonous fumes engulfing the region.
On Thursday, in exercise of its powers under the ordinance, a selection panel under Union surroundings minister Prakash Javadekar’s chairmanship selected Kutty.
The selection panel, which also comprised Union ministers Piyush Goyal, Nitin Gadkari and Harsh Vardhan, and cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba, named Arvind Kumar Nautiyal, joint secretary, surroundings ministry, as the commission’s full-time member. While Khare and Ramesh would be the agency’s full-time technical members, Ajay Mathur, the director-general of The Energy and Resources Institute, and Ashish Dhawan of Air Pollution Action Group, have been selected as the commission’s non-government members. Respective state governments and ministries will nominate the remainder of the agency’s nine ex-officio members.
The rules for the commission’s functioning were yet to be formulated but two full-time members, Kutty and Nautiyal, met RP Gupta, secretary, surroundings ministry, to talk about when they could start functioning.
“We are working on it. The members take charge immediately but It’s not that i am certain when they’re going to have their first assembly. Other members must be also selected and take charge,” said Ravi Agrawal, special secretary, surroundings ministry.
The ordinance empowers the agency to make rules, set emission standards, and slap fines of up to ₹1 crore or imprison violators for up to five years. As per the ordinance, Kutty will have a term of three years from the date he is taking charge or until he’s 70 years of age.
Nautiyal did not respond to HT’s calls or messages through the day. Mathur said: “We have spoken to one another several times since morning and I think we can be assembly very soon. The selection happened suddenly so members must rework their steady schedule to receive totally involved in the commission,” he said.
Khare said: “I have received the notification this morning, it is too early to say anything now. Once a plan is in a position we can communicate our next step.”
As per the ordinance, the members of the agency should be drawn from Union ministries, departments, non-governmental organisations and the five states of Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
“Everyone knows what must be done. But the scale of action will be very important. The commission must take deep, multisector action for all of the region. For instance, all power plants must meet the new emission standards; all industries must move to clean fuel; proper waste management infrastructure must be put in place and a strategy for regional public transit will be a very powerful. The commission must have a very strong compliance strategy,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Surroundings.
While welcoming the formation of the commission, Delhi surroundings minister Gopal Rai said he hoped that the new commission will hastily act on the rising cases of stubble burning instances in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana.
“We have been seeing the effectiveness of the Pusa bio-decomposer, which melts the stubble in fields and converts it into manure. We are hoping that the new commission sees this cost-effective solution and directs the governments of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh to make use of this solution in order that Delhi does not continue to suffer on its account year after year,” Rai said.
Expressing concern over bad air quality in north India, particularly in the national Capital, Javadekar said the government will encourage all imaginable technological interventions to mitigate pollution. “The central government has been working constantly on the entire fronts towards mitigation of air pollution. The government is working towards abatement of air pollution by working at the source level, be it industries or thermal power stations, vehicular pollution, construction and demolition waste or stubble burning, which are the major sources of pollution generation,” he added.
An official of the Delhi government’s surroundings ministry said on condition of anonymity that the appointment of the commission happened at a a very powerful stage when the air quality levels in the city were already showing a declining trend. The official said the commission will help in better coordination between states in tackling the problem.
“The problem in Delhi is that a large number of things aren’t in the state government’s total keep watch over. The task of coordination used to happen better with Epca, but now we are hoping the commission will take on this role,” a senior Delhi government official said, asking not to be named.
Farm fires are likely to be one of the vital focus areas of the new commission. It’ll have the powers to issue instructions, entertain complaints; control and prohibit activities that are likely to bring or increase air pollution, lay down parameters and standards; restrict industry activities, processes; and direct the closure, or prohibit any polluting activity in Delhi-NCR and adjoining areas.