Members of air quality panel ‘surprised’ at dissolution

The high power body came into being in October on the back of an ordinance

Members who were part of the Commission for Air Quality Management said they were taken aback by the sudden dissolution of the body — constituted last October and via an ordinance — on Friday. The dissolution happened despite, The Hindu has learnt, the nodal Union Environment Ministry submitting the paper work to the Union Cabinet Secretariat, required to give legal backing to the commission.

The body came into being in October on the back of an ordinance — a temporary measure — and the law requires that a formal Bill be presented to Parliament within six weeks of it reconvening — in this case — January 29 when the Budget Session began. Before a Bill is tabled in Parliament it needs to be approved by the Union Cabinet. However in spite of several Cabinet meetings since January, it wasn’t taken up for discussion due to which, the tenure of the body expired, without ever making it to Parliament. It is still technically possible to revive the body during the ongoing Parliament session.

The Hindu spoke to members of the commission who said “they were surprised” that they learnt of the dissolution of a functional body via newspaper reports. “We were discharging the duties we were supposed to. There is office space that some of us work out of in Delhi and another office was being readied. Staff has been hired and we were coordinating with States — as our mandate — in addressing pollution. That the body may be dissolved was nowhere near even the back of our minds,” a commission member, who declined to be identified, said.

Nod for Bill

Another person, aware of matters, said that the Bill — whose drafting was a “routine affair” — was even approved by Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar before perusal by the Union Cabinet.

R.P. Gupta, Secretary, Environment Ministry, told the Press Trust of India on Friday: “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 the commission is dissolved,” he said.

The commission was headed by M.M. Kutty, a former secretary in the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas. Neither of them responded to The Hindu when queried for comment.

The Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas, as it is called, came into being after the 22-year-old Environmental Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) that has so far addressed air pollution in Delhi, was dissolved in October.

Several powers

The Centre had said that the new organisation would be a “permanent” body to address pollution in the National Capital Region Delhi and address sources of pollution in Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The all-powerful body assumed several powers to coordinate action among States, levy fines — ranging up to ₹1 crore or five years of prison — to address air pollution.

While the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and its State branches have the powers to implement provisions of the Environment Protection Act for air, water and land pollution, in case of dispute or a clash of jurisdictions, the commission’s writ will prevail specific to matters concerning air pollution.

Other full-time members of the body included Arvind Nautiyal, Joint Secretary, Union Environment Ministry; Ramesh K.J, former DG, IMD, and Mukesh Khare of IIT-Delhi as full time technical members of the new body.

Ajay Mathur, formerly Director General, The Energy Resources Institute, and Ashish Dhawan of the Air Pollution Action Group were representatives of non-governmental organisations on the body. Ex-officio members of the body included representatives of the Secretary, MoEF, Chief Secretaries or Secretaries-in-charge of the department dealing with environment protection from Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, a representative from NITI Aayog and two technical members, one from the CPCB and the other from ISRO.

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