No Cases, Only Advisories On Air Pollution: Panel Chief Explains Why

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Bhure Lal says the EPCA may lose its focus with too many court cases.

New Delhi:

As Delhi continues to struggle with poor air quality, the chairman of the Supreme Court-empowered environment body formed to keep the air pollution levels under check has requested the people in the national capital to not use their diesel vehicles. Dr Bhure Lal, Chairman of the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA), told NDTV that diesel vehicles are one of the biggest contributors to air pollution in Delhi. He also explained why the EPCA has not been filing criminal complaints against air pollution violations.

"I request people not to use these vehicles," he said and added, "As of now it is an advisory. We have not issued an order because right now, we are in the process of issuing fuel-specific stickers. Unless easy identification is possible, ban would be hard to implement. Once the process completes, under abnormal circumstances – like the one we are facing right now – polluting vehicles will be easily identified."

Referring to the interim ban on entry of trucks carrying non-essential products (products other than vegetables and petro products), Dr Lal said: "Fourty-two teams of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) are working even at the night. Delhi Police and other state teams are also active. Last time, it had an impact in reducing pollution. This time, we will take a call on November 11 when the ban ends after carrying out an assessment, on whether we want to extend the ban."

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The EPCA was constituted under the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act by the central government in 1998 at the behest of the Supreme Court. It is a statutory body and if its directions are not followed, it has the power to file criminal complaints (under Section 19 of the Act) before courts.

On being questioned, why the EPCA never filed criminal complaints and only issued advisories, the EPCA Chairman said, "We have limited staff. Should we go to the courts or go for policy directions? Enforcement agencies like state pollution control boards take care of orders issued by us. They should contest in court if need arises. We have imposed fines on industries. Should we keep standing before courts? Do we have adequate staff? If we get stuck in court cases, we may lose our focus."

Dr Lal also expressed his disappointment over people violating the Supreme Court order on firecrackers. He claimed that the Supreme Court had fixed both the time for bursting firecrackers and the type of firecrackers. But he emphasised that only a "cultural change" and an "aware society" could make things better.

However, according to environment activist Rajeev Suri, the EPCA is "reluctant to act". "The EPCA has been merely writing letters to NCR Chief Secretaries requesting compliance. The EPCA has various government bodies like municipal corporations as its members, hence it is reluctant to initiate action. The EPCA has voluntarily divested itself of responsibility to listen to the complaints filed before it and prefers being an advisory body to the top court, although that was not the role initially envisaged for it," he said.

Kanchi Kohli, an environment campaigner, who works with Centre for Policy Research (CPR), said the EPCA could consider action in "critical cases".

"The EPCA does not need to take all matters to court, so the issue of being overburdened by court action does not arise. The issue is whether the EPCA could have take criminal action in a few critical cases which could have acted as a deterrent against the disregard of environment law and standards in the NCR. When this option is part of the EPCA terms, an outright rejection like this is disappointing," he said.

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