Delhi: Environment secretary's statement on pollution sparks debates on multiplicity of authorities

A recent statement made by the environment secretary has struck a debate among environmentalists. It is viewed as an irresponsible statement by some and others see it as a pertinent issue of multiplicity of agencies which come in the way of maintaining air quality.

Speaking at an event hosted by WWF in Delhi on Monday, CK Misra, the Environment Secretary to the government of India, said that no single authority can be held responsible for Delhi’s air pollution problem.

PTI quoted him as saying that to control Delhi’s air quality, there are a lot of things that should have been done. But no single authority can be held responsible.

 Delhi: Environment secretarys statement on pollution sparks debates on multiplicity of authorities

Representational image. PTI

He also reportedly said, “Many say the government has been unable to enforce what it says. But, let me put another perspective, if the government has failed to stop emission, it is time those who are emitting also took some responsibility." He also mentioned that the government was determined to not let the smog-like situation recur.

But his statement has not gone down well with many environmentalists as they view it as an attempt to blame the public instead of the authorities responsible for it.

Mahendra Pandey, an environmental activist, told Firstpost that his statement is not only legally wrong but also amounts to giving indulgence to Central Pollution Control Board, which is entrusted with the responsibility of controlling pollution and has miserably failed in fulfilling it.

“It is the apex body in the matters of pollution control and it is empowered under air and water act to perform its duty. So, it is not correct to say that no single authority can be held responsible for Delhi’s pollution and smog,” said the former scientist with the Central Pollution Control Board. He added that the top official's statement indulges CPCB's lackadaisical way of functioning.

“It is the responsibility of the CPCB to ensure that industrial units emit within permitted levels. But this function has not been performed with sincerity. If it was done, polluting industries need not have been shut down to prevent air pollution by Environment Pollution Control Authority,” he said.

He added that the government now saying that the emitters also have to take responsibility is akin to blaming the public.

But other environmentalists say that the official actually pointed out the rather pertinent issue of multiplicity of authorities, which makes the job of controlling air pollution difficult and often ineffective in Delhi.

Polash Chatterjee, an environmental expert in the Centre for Science and Technology, told Firstpost, “Though the CPCB is the apex body in the matters of pollution control, when it comes to dealing with the menace, various agencies such as state pollution control boards of various states which have areas in the National Capital Region along with the departments of environment and forest and Public Work Departments come into play. Implementing pollution control measures require adequate co-ordination among these agencies, lack of which may also make the effort ineffective.”

The issue of co-ordination among various agencies related to pollution control is raised at a time when Environment Pollution Control Authority has advised various states having area in the NCR to appoint Nodal Officers in concerned districts to avoid lapse of time.

“When an emergency measure is to be taken to control air pollution, we convey the directives to the chief secretaries of the various state governments. The chief secretary then convenes a meeting with the concerned agencies who then implement the directives. But this process consumes enough time and causes delay in implementation. So, we have asked the states for nodal officers in each district so that the directives can be followed immediately,” said Dr Bhure Lal, Chairman of the EPCA.

The debate has also raises the question that if there is no single authority to control Delhi’s air pollution menace, isn’t it high time to have one?

Polash Chatterjee says that many countries have airshed management authorities who are responsible for maintaining air quality in a vast area, which may be a suitable model for Delhi.

“Delhi's air quality is influenced by factors prevalent in a vast range of area in northern India. So, a single authority to control air pollution in this area may be a good idea,” he said.

But Lal says that there can be no template methods for fighting pollution in India and the nation has to find it’s own way by trial and error.

“The Supreme Court of India has constituted the EPCA to ensure implementation of pollution control measures in Delhi NCR. This is our first year and apart from implementing the rules, we also have created public awareness. But to see a clear result, we may need another one year or so and the body could prove itself to be a good way of integrating air quality control effort in Delhi NCR. For this, we need to go through the learning process of trial and error,” he said.

The EPCA recently implemented Graded Response Action Plan to control Delhi’s air pollution, which included stopping entry of trucks in the city and shutting down of polluting industries.

He also said that the environment secretary was correct when he said that no single authority can be held responsible for Delhi’s air pollution.

“Everyone has contribution to it and hence, we are responsible for it,” he said.

Updated Date: Nov 29, 2017 10:53:15 IST