The Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance, 2020 ("Ordinance") has been passed on 28 October 2020 with the objective of curbing air pollution in Delhi NCR and the adjoining areas. The Ordinance provides for setting up of an eighteen member Commission for Air Quality Management in the NCR and its adjoining areas ("Commission"). The Commission shall be headquartered in New Delhi and shall have representatives from the states of Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab ("adjoining states"). It shall function under the overall supervision and guidance of the Central Government.

The Need for the Commission

There was a need for an inter-sectoral, public-participative, multi-State, dynamic body to tackle air pollution, which was until now being monitored by the Supreme Court of India. The earlier authority that had been constituted to deal with the menace of air pollution and suggest measures to address the issue, could not serve its purpose in an effective manner as the quality of air in NCR has always remained poor, and thus a serious health concern. This inefficiency has been attributed to the lack of a legislative mechanism to ensure implementation of the measures to curb air pollution. The intent of constituting this Commission is to have a permanent body that is self-regulated and monitored in a democratic fashion to tackle the menace of air pollution in the NCR and adjoining areas and deal with various issues including stubble burning, vehicular pollution, industrial pollution, road dust and urban construction. The Hon'ble Supreme Court has regularly sought to improve and propose innovative measures and research initiatives to resolve the problem of air pollution.

The Ordinance to constitute this Commission has been passed in furtherance of the assurance provided by the Central Government to the Supreme Court, wherein the Central Government had submitted that it was under the process of proposing a legislation to tackle the problem of air pollution that had been highlighted repeatedly before the Supreme Court of India. The order of the Supreme Court dated 16 October 2020 to constitute a one-man Monitoring Committee headed by Justice Madan B Lokur, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, for monitoring the measures taken by the states to prevent stubble burning was therefore kept in abeyance after the aforesaid reassurance by the Central Government to constitute this Commission.

Objectives of the Commission

The primary objectives of the Commission will be to monitor the status of air pollution, oversee the enforcement of laws and provide for innovative solutions to curb air pollution. The Ordinance provides for the fulfilment of these objectives through the constitution of three sub-committees for identification; safeguarding and enforcement and research and development. Constitution of the sub-committees shall help in synergising the efforts by various stakeholders, reducing duplicity of efforts and promoting interstate and inter-sectoral cooperation to achieve the common objective of improving the air quality. The Ordinance provides that in case of any conflict in the orders or directions of the Commission and any state government, the direction of the Commission shall prevail.

The Commission shall have participation from Delhi and the adjoining states, various relevant departments, representatives of the public and technical experts. Regular reports shall be submitted by the Commission to the Parliament to ensure that there is an effective enforcement and implementation of the proposals of the Commission. Exclusive jurisdiction has been provided to the Commission and civil courts shall not have the authority to take up any matter arising due to any order or direction passed by the Commission. The appeals arising out of the orders of the Commission shall be filed before the National Green Tribunal. The Commission shall also supersede various committees, commissions and authorities that were set up temporarily either by the judiciary or the government. The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority for the National Capital Region ("EPCA") that was established vide notification dated 29 January 1998 also stands dissolved and the notification stands repealed.

Powers of the Commission

The Commission has been vested with the power to direct the closure, prohibition or regulation of any industry, operation or process. Like the state pollution control boards and pollution control committees, it has all the powers including the power to stop the supply of electricity, water or any other service to a polluting industry. The Commission can take up matters suo motu or based on any complaint made by any person, representative body or organization functioning in the field of environment against any individual, association, company, public undertaking or local body carrying on any industry, operation or process. The Commission has the powers to not just coordinate the actions of the state governments to curb air pollution but also has the power to lay down parameters for air quality. It also has the powers to impose restrictions on polluting industries and investigate the causes of pollution. Contravention or non-compliance with the order or direction of the Commission shall be treated as an offense and shall be punishable with imprisonment up to five years and fine up to one crore rupees or both.

This Ordinance is being seen as a promising step towards consolidating all the past efforts by the judiciary and the government to provide a stable and long-term solution for curbing air pollution in the NCR and adjoining areas. The Commission has been empowered with a wide-range of powers which may be used against the polluters across the NCR and four adjoining states.

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