[Answered] “With rising pollution levels in Indian cities, India needs a Clean Air Act and an autonomous new body to enforce it.” Comment.

Demand of the question
Introduction. Contextual Introduction.
Body. Discuss rising air pollution and failure of laws and organisations. Also discuss the need of clean air act and an organisation to implement it.
Conclusion. Way forward.

With every winter there is news of elevated pollution levels in the national capital. The problem of pollution disrupts not only the NCR area but many other prominent urban areas like Allahabad and Ludhiana which figure above Delhi in the pollution ranking across the world. Many organisations and act are there to prevent air pollution in India which unfortunately have proved ineffective to do so.

Air pollution Scenario in India:

  1. According to WHO, of the 20 most polluted cities in the world, the top 14 are Indian cities. These include Kanpur, Faridabad, Varanasi, Delhi, etc.
  2. The Environmental Performance Index (released by World Economic Forum) ranked India 178th out of 180 countries in terms of air quality.
  3. According to Central Pollution Control Board data, 11 most polluted cities in country are from Uttar Pradesh. Ghaziabad is the most polluted city in the country followed by Gurugram.

Failure of Indian laws and organisations:

  1. Currently, there are many different organisations trying to combat air pollution with no top organisation to guide them all to achieve defined goals. NCAP, EPCA, CPCB and MoEF and SPCBs and many other organisations failed miserably in preventing air pollution.
  2. EPCA, The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority was constituted in 1986. The Supreme Court-mandated EPCA is tasked with monitoring and implementing the court’s judgments on air pollution. EPCA has failed in its mandate and Delhi has become one of the world’s most polluted cities. EPCA’s mandate extends only to Delhi-NCR.
  3. Air pollution is a national problem. Central government’s National Clean Air Programme or NCAP, focuses only on 10 cities. It is difficult to stop stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana by focusing on 10 cities. As it fails in resolving inter-city and inter-state issues.
  4. There is also a Supreme Court-mandated mechanism called Graded Action Response Plan (GRAP). It is similar to China’s graded plan which came into force whenever pollution was expected to go and thus was a preventive mechanism. Unfortunately GRAP’s measures come into force when air pollution levels are already crossed acceptable thresholds. Further, GRAP is only for Delhi-NCR.

Need for a comprehensive clean air act and organisation:

  1. As we saw failure of various initiatives and organisations to act against air pollution in India, it is thus important to have a clean air act on the lines of USA’s clean air act and an autonomous body like Environment Protection Agency (EPA) of USA to enforce it. The US once had the sort of air pollution haze that we now see in India. But it’s gone in the US, due to the EPA and the Clean Air Act.
  2. The Clean Air Act and EPA has its impact had resulted in a cleaner environment for New York City. In addition, the act has become the major force, in revamping New York City’s transportation system and a key consideration in any new land‐use planning. India need a similar kind of initiative.
  3. Recently, China has succeeded in significantly bringing down its air pollution levels. It has done so by overhauling its environmental laws with provisions similar to the US’ Clean Air Act.

What should be done?

  1. An organisation on the lines of EPA should be established which powerful and its chairman must be given a cabinet-rank status in the government.
  2. If a state in the refuses to comply with the EPA’s minimum standards, the EPA should be able to take over the environment administration of that state by law. Lesser powers must include stopping funds to the state. For the most part, EPA must work with state governments to make implementation plans.
  3. A new organisation should help in removing issues among states and cities by enforcing clean air law pan-India.
  4. It should further help in enforcing the laws beforehand before developing of a dangerous situation to live in.

Thus, it is important to replace India’s outdated and weak Air Act and to create a powerful autonomous national body. In the absence of a powerful and autonomous central implementing body, India will continue to grope in the smog.

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