Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Air quality commission shuts down after ordinance lapses

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The central government’s Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and adjoining areas has been shut down within five months of its constitution after the ordinance issued to constitute it lapsed.

Ordinances must be approved by Parliament within six weeks of the Parliament convening or they cease to operate. They will also cease to operate in case resolutions disapproving the Ordinance are passed by both the Houses.

Environment secretary RP Gupta said in a statement on Saturday, “Since the ordinance was not introduced in Parliament within six weeks of its convention, it has lapsed and consequently, the commission also stands shut. The ordinance never became an Act. Any ordinance has to be introduced within six weeks of the convening of Parliament. It did not happen, so the ordinance has lapsed and hence, the commission is dissolved.”

The Union environment ministry had published, “The Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Area Ordinance” on October 28, to implement a consolidated approach to monitoring, tackling and eliminating causes of air pollution in Delhi NCR and adjoining areas.

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While doing so, it dissolved all ad-hoc committees and bodies created under court orders including the SC mandated environment pollution control authority (EPCA) which had been tasked with overseeing air pollution control in NCR since 1998. It had also brought in a completely new, centralised regime of pollution control where an appeal against any order or direction of the Commission can be made only in the National Green Tribunal. No civil court will have the jurisdiction to entertain any suit or proceedings against the decisions of the Commission.

The Commission was a statutory authority that could coordinate air pollution control with the governments of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh and was to have 18 fulltime members appointed by the Central government with a wide range of powers to issue directions, entertain complaints; regulate and prohibit activities that are likely to cause or increase air pollution, lay down parameters and standards, restrict industry, activities, processes, direct closure or prohibit any polluting activity in Delhi NCR and adjoining areas.

Legal and environmental experts said shutting down of the Commission shows the Centre was not serious about tackling air pollution in NCR.

“An ordinance is always a stop-gap arrangement till the Parliament convenes. Even the forest conservation act was brought in through an ordinance and then passed in the Parliament. During last winter when stubble burning had peaked, the Centre seemed to have rushed to issue the ordinance but they were definitely not serious about air pollution or functions of the ordinance. The ordinance has to be presented in the form of a bill and then it becomes an act when it is passed in Parliament or the ordinance lapses after six weeks. No bill was presented. The government can issue a fresh ordinance if they want the Commission to function. The Commission did not have an office, they did not respond to complaints. I doubt how serious the government was about the Commission,” said Ritwick Dutta, an environmental lawyer.

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