The Commission for air quality management (CAQM) was established under Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance in October 2020. The parliament was not in session during this time, and an urgent need for such legislation was felt. The ordinance lapsed on 12th March 2021, as the parliament could not act on it by then.
Consequently, a new bill for this was promulgated. It was given the assent of both the houses and the President, following which Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Act,2021 was passed on 12th August 2021.
The country brought The Air (Prevention And Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, after which the government took the agency to monitor the national air quality and curb pollution. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) was entrusted with the functions and powers to monitor air quality under this act. Additionally, the Supreme Court of India declared the “right to a decent environment, including pollution-free water and air” as a fundamental right under Article 21 (right to life) in the MC Mehta vs. Union of India, 1988 case. Following the case, apex court itself started monitoring Delhi’s air quality and gave directions to the central government to establish the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority(EPCA).
After the inception of Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Act, the EPCA has dissolved. The primary responsibility of maintaining clean air in Delhi lies with the CAQM.
Objective of the Policy
Several bodies and agencies have carried out monitoring of air quality in the capital city of Delhi. These included the CPCB, EPCA, state governments of the region (Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Haryana), etc. Above all, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the Supreme court also kept an eye.
The act seeks to create a body that overarches and consolidates all these agencies. This will enhance the air quality monitoring by bringing all the stakeholders on one platform and enhancing the efficiency of the monitoring process. Ultimately the process will become more efficient and comprehensive while reaching the results in a time-bound manner.
Functions of Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM)
The Commission has members and representation from almost all stakeholders. It has a diverse panel, coming from all backgrounds.
The commision has been entrusted with following functions:
- The Commission is required to coordinate its actions on monitoring of air quality with the government of Delhi and the adjoining states, which includes Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh.
- The Commission is required to plan and execute the measures for the prevention and control of air pollution in the region and lay down the parameters for the same.
- To achieve these goals, the Commission has the right to lay down emissions targets and restrict operations of polluting industries.
- To ensure the implementation, it has the right to conduct research and investigation into pollution causes and their implications in the region. For this, it can inspect any premise, industry, plant or manufacturing place, etc., and appoint officers for the same with approval of the central government. It can further take steps based on its findings.
- It is entrusted with the responsibility to prepare manuals, codes, or guidelines to achieve these targets. It has the right to collect and disseminate information concerning matters related to air pollution in the region.
- All the directions and orders by the Commission are of binding nature, and any person, officer, or authority shall be bound to comply with the same.
The commission is directly accountable to the parliament. While Replying to the bill during the session, the Environment Minister iterated that it is the responsibility of the central government to deal with air pollution.
Performance and Impact
The CAQM is a fairly new body that came into existence a year ago. The performance and impact can be evaluated after analyzing the advisories and directions issued by the body in this duration. These advisories include-
- The Commission issued an advisory to the states on curbing stubble burning in respective territories. It asked them to innovate equipment to manage the stubble, create an enabling environment for entrepreneurs to procure and use the residue matter for some practical purpose. It also advised them on developing storing facilities for the stubble and demonstrated the profitability of paddy residue end-use.
- It further issued directions to states to prepare plans on directing the paddy residue to coal-based thermal plants.
- The Commission issued an advisory to the state to establish a “dust control and management cell” for the projects undertaken in the NCR and adjoining regions to curb the dust pollution coming from roads and road construction agencies.
- The Commission also came up with an advisory for the state to prepare plans and appropriate policies for the shift in the transport industry towards zero-emission vehicles in their respective states.
- It also registered an advisory on shifting identified industries to use PNG cleaner fuels. The body has asked the states to prepare a time-bound comprehensive action plan for the same.
Despite these directions and advisories, the Commission has had little effect on the capital state’s air pollution this year. In November, the air quality situation worsened, so much so that a writ petition was filed under the Supreme court as Aditya Dubey vs. Union of India. The apex court finally had to come to the rescue and ask the Delhi government and the Commission for Air Quality Management to take immediate steps. After which, the body urgently took steps to shut schools down, advise people to work from home, and halt construction activities in Delhi. It also sent advisories to the state to take necessary steps.
Emerging Issues and challenges
The establishment of this Commission to consolidate the effort for air quality monitoring was well structured. However, few issues and challenges are present in the policy environment that require addressing to ensure the Commission’s success.
Non-seriousness and inaction of the government to take steps for the abatement and control of air pollution in winter 2021 led to filing a petition in the supreme court. Only after the directions from the court, the CAQM issues an urgent advisory to protect the children and people from harmful smog.
The Commission has taken steps to advise the adjoining states to prepare plans for several innovative steps. However, further coordination is required to oversee that the plans are prepared and implemented efficiently. There is also the lack of time-bound commitment to clean the air in these advisories, which should be addressed.
- Overrepresentation of the Central Government in the Commission
Even when the bill was being discussed in the parliament, the states pointed out that the Commission has a large number of members from the central government. According to this opposition, this goes against federalism. This issue should be resolved, and the state governments should be taken into complete confidence such that the coordination improves and the Commission works efficiently.
Over the years, our country has improved technologically and institutionally to tackle the problem of emissions and climate change and. Several systems are in place, including the nationwide implemented National Air quality monitoring program and the international commitment of Intended Nationally Determined Commitment(INDC) to curb emission below specific targets. further National Clean Air Program (NCAP), which aims to reduce pollution by 20-30% in annual PM concentration by 2024. The Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Act, is an addition to these efforts.
Technological tools like SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research), SILAM (System for Integrated Modeling of Atmospheric Composition), ENFUSER (ENvironmental information FUsion SERvice) have also been developed to improve the monitoring system.
However, still every year, we see deteriorating air quality. The national capital’s air has deteriorated so much that on 19 October 2021, it was reported that the Delhi residents breathed good air after 413 days on the Air quality index. In 2015, 2016, and 2018, Delhi did not record a single good air day. The situation is extreme and requires urgent attention and steps. The establishment of the new agency solely for the issue is a hope towards better air quality, although hoping for breathable air yearlong, in Delhi still seems utopian.
About the Contributor
Sonia Singh is a Researcher at IMPRI. She is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Regulatory Policy and Governance from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai