Topic: General Studies 2, 3:
- Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation
- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM)
Context: The central government has notified an Ordinance to constitute a Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region (NCR) and Adjoining Areas.
Key Points of the Ordinance
- Overarching Body: CAQM will supersede all existing bodies, including the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), as well as state governments in matters of air pollution mitigation
- Abolition of EPCA: Through the Ordinance, the Centre has dissolved the Environment Pollution Prevention and Control Authority (EPCA) for the NCR.
- Role of NGT: Only the National Green Tribunal (NGT), and not civil courts, is authorised to hear cases where the Commission is involved.
What is Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA)?
- EPCA was constituted in 1998 under section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 for the National Capital Region in compliance with the Supreme Court order dated January 1998.
- It has the power to take action suo-moto, or on the basis of complaints made by any individual, representative body or organization functioning in the field of environment.
- It takes all necessary steps for controlling vehicular pollution, ensuring compliance of fuel quality standards, monitoring and coordinating action for traffic planning and management.
Composition of CAQM
- Strength: The new 18-member Commission brings together the Centre, states, and other stakeholders on one collaborative platform.
- Chairperson: It will have a full-time chairperson “who is or has been Secretary to the Government of India or Chief Secretary to the Government of a state”. The chairperson will hold the post for three years or until s/he attains the age of 70 years.
- State Representatives: The Commission will also have five ex officio members who are either Chief Secretaries, or Secretaries in charge of the department dealing with environment protection in the States of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh
- Experts: Three full-time independent technical members with “specific scientific knowledge and experience in matters relating to air pollution”; a technical member each from the CPCB and nominated by ISRO, ex officio.
- Civil Society: Three representatives of NGOs with experience in combating air pollution
- Others: It will have members from Niti Aayog and several Ministries
Why CAQM was needed?
- Need for Single Body: The monitoring and management of air quality in the Delhi NCR region has so far been done piecemeal by multiple bodies including the CPCB, state pollution control boards, the state governments of Delhi, Haryana, Utttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan, and the EPCA.
- Holistic Approach: The problem with the air pollution in Delhi is that the source of the pollution lies elsewhere – that is why it is important to tackle the whole region, rather than piecemeal approach taken by various bodies
- More Powers: EPCA was not a statutory body but drew legitimacy from the Supreme Court (M C Mehta vs Union of India (1988)). It did have the authority to issue fines or directions and guidelines to the governments in other states.
- Failure of previous mechanisms: Experts say that EPCA has failed miserably in cleaning the air even after being in force for more than 20 years. CAQM’s performance will be gauged by changes in the status quo when it comes to ground implementation and strict action on polluters.
Merits of CAQM
- Effective Mechanism to tackle Pollution: The permanent Commission envisages a multi-sectoral, public participatory, multi-state dynamic body for combating pollution and with statutory status the body can deal with pollution on war footing
- More Teeth: It will now be binding on state governments to follow the directions of the Commission regarding air quality management. It will also have powers to restrict the setting up of industries in vulnerable areas, and will be able to conduct site inspections of industrial units.
- Penal Powers: The penalty for non-compliance shall be imprisonment upto five years or fine upto Rs 1 crore, or both.
- Relieves Supreme Court: The Centre seeks to relieve the Supreme Court from having to constantly monitor pollution levels through various pollution-related cases.
- Undemocratic process: It has been criticised that ordinance was passed with no consultation with states and other stakeholders
- Doubts over approach: It is unsure whether a top-down implementation approach through CAQM (without third-party monitoring and citizen-driven enforcement) will work.
- Inadequate targets: There is also the lack of a time-bound commitment to clean the air.
- Overrepresentation of the Central Government: The Commission has a large number of members from the central government, which has not gone down well with the states. On the other hand, States will have just one member each.
While CAQM is welcome, it alone cannot clean the air. Its success will depend on how it tackles different interest groups; outlines a time-bound commitment to achieving the set standards; ensures adequate personnel and funds for pollution control bodies