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The President of India on Wednesday (October 28) evening signed The Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance, 2020. The Ordinance came within days of the hearing in ‘Aditya Dubey vs Union of India’ in the court of the Chief Justice of India, where Solicitor General Tushar Mehta 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 has been done piecemeal by multiple bodies including the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the state pollution control boards, the state governments in the region, including Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan, and the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) of the National Capital Region.
  • They in turn are monitored by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEF), and the Supreme Court itself, which monitors air pollution as per the judgment in ‘M C Mehta vs Union of India’, 1988.
  • 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.
  • The Centre also seeks to relieve the Supreme Court from having to constantly monitor pollution levels through various pollution-related cases.

What will be the composition of this 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 Government of India or Chief Secretary of a state. It will include a representative of the Secretary of the MoEF, 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, Road Transport and Highways, Housing and Urban Affairs, and Commerce and Industry.
  • The composition of 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.

What powers will the Commission have?

  • In matters of air pollution and air quality management, the Commission will supersede all existing bodies such as the CPCB, and even the state governments of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. 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.

Will this new body also have penal powers?

  • Yes, the Commission will have some teeth. 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.