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‘New body shows govt intent’: Epca bows out with grace after 22 years

New Delhi:

The Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (Epca) on Thursday welcomed the ordinance to put in place a new anti-pollution agency that replaces the 22-year-old monitoring body.

In a letter to union environment minister Prakash Javadekar, Epca chairperson Bhure Lal and member Sunita Narain said the move shows the intent and determination of the union government to mitigate the high levels of air pollution in the Delhi-NCR region.

“Over the past many years, we have worked to find solutions and to recommend action through our reports to government and to the honourable Supreme Court. We are grateful for the consideration given to our work and to the fact that many of our recommendations have been implemented,” the letter read.

Enlisting the action taken by Epca to tackle pollution, the members said there were some initiatives that the monitoring body was overseeing and now that the central commission has taken over, these can be implemented.

“…The next phase of the agenda for clean air; fourth generation reforms need to be deliberated upon and implemented. That will necessitate the massive augmentation of intra-city public transport, and to move industries, power plants and other users away from polluting fuels like coal to natural gas, electricity and renewable to ensure clean combustion,” the letter read.

It added, “We hope that the above listing will help your ministry in following up the necessary actions for combating pollution in this region.”

Meanwhile, in an informal meet with the media, senior environment ministry officials said, “Only two members (Sunita Narain and Bhure Lal) of Epca were calling the shots. Other members hardly participated. We thought it was necessary to dissolve the body.”

While the Epca members put up a brave face, officials in the Delhi government said the body was an appointed by the SC, which meant that all action taken by them was monitored by the apex court.

“This (new) body will be full of bureaucrats. At least with Epca, the SC was constantly monitoring action and action-taken reports were submitted regularly. Political interference will be more. Earlier, the problem was implementation and even now it will exist and there is no solution to that,” a senior government official said.

Javadekar said, “To reduce air pollution in NCR, the government has set up a commission through an ordinance. It will be very effective because Delhi-NCR is an airshed and cannot be treated separately. Courts have set up various committees working independently. Instead of that, this new law will have higher penalty and stricter punishment and I believe it will be far more effective.”

Many experts said the commission could help reduce Supreme Court oversight as it was monitoring the issue through Epca. “With the commission, there will be little judicial monitoring. It will now be a completely bureaucrat-driven exercise,” explained environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta.

“The critical departure is the attempt to limit the role of the judiciary and assertion of the role of the executive and the power of the elected representative in decision-making related to air pollution matters. The ordinance states this is the “highest degree of democratic oversight for effective implementation” and the commission will function under the oversight of elected representative with regular reports to the Parliament,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment.

“The implication of this super structure for the federal framework is not yet clear. Even though the membership of the commission will include key ministries and state governments at the level of secretary to the government of India and chief secretaries to the state governments, its power to take measures, issue directions and entertain complaints will require central political oversight,” Chowdhury said.

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