More than 22 years after it was set up on the orders of the Supreme Court, the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) has been superseded by a bigger, more powerful, and more representative body.
In a letter written to Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar on Thursday, members of the outgoing EPCA listed the achievements of the authority over the years — early phase-in of BS VI emission norms, and the Graded Action Response Plan (GRAP) — and mentioned the tasks that lay ahead for the new Commission for Air Quality Management in the NCR: action on stubble burning and bio-medical waste management in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic, among others.
“In 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 move industries, power plants and other users away from polluting fuels, like coal, to natural gas, electricity and renewables to ensure clean combustion,” the letter said.
The two-member EPCA, which was tasked with monitoring air pollution over the National Capital Region (NCR), was chaired by retired IAS officer Bhure Lal, and included environmentalist Sunita Narain, director general of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
Set up by the central government on January 29, 1998, EPCA has played a crucial role in the drafting of the long-term Comprehensive Action Plan (CAP) for combating air pollution, and the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), a set of emergency measures that kick in as the air quality in the NCR deteriorates.
One of EPCA’s biggest achievements was the phase-wise replacement of Delhi’s public transport fleet from diesel to CNG, starting in 1998. In recent times, the early rollout of the BS VI grade fuel and emission standards has been an action with far reaching impact.
After EPCA’s recommendations to the Union government and Supreme Court, the country skipped the BS V stage and rolled out the BS VI fuel by April 2020. BS VI fuel is estimated to have 80% less sulphur content than BS IV — from 50 parts per million (ppm) to 10 ppm.
EPCA had also recommended building two bypasses to move traffic not destined for Delhi away from the city in 2004. These roads, now known as the Eastern and Western Peripheral Expressways, were commissioned in 2019, and were credited by Javadekar for preventing thousands of vehicles from from entering Delhi per day.
A number of other measures, including a ban on pet coke and furnace oil in NCR states, setting up standards for sulphur dioxide (SO2) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and closure of the coal-based Badarpur power plant in Delhi, were taken by EPCA.
Lal told The Indian Express, “We were satisfied with the work we did, and the government gave us space and means to do it… We share the government’s concern on air pollution, and the creation of the new Commission will be a good step, which will make work happen on a big scale.”
In the letter to Javadekar, EPCA has listed the work that remains to be done — and this includes action to control stubble burning.
“EPCA had endorsed the Union government’s plan for management of stubble in Haryana, Punjab and UP… Report number 117 details the current steps taken and what needs to be done for in-situ and ex-situ management of crop residue. This needs to be monitored closely…”
Other pending work includes implementation of the parking policy in Delhi-NCR, augmentation of buses in Delhi, pollution control in hotspots of Delhi-NCR, and bio-medical waste management in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We believe that the Commission… with its increased participation from different Ministries and much more enhanced role and powers, will be able to make a huge difference and bring us, citizens, the much needed relief from breathing toxins,” the letter said.
Over the past few years, the authority has faced criticism for failing to get its orders and recommendations implemented on the ground, especially in the case of stubble burning and use of diesel generators. Problems also arose because unlike the new Commission, EPCA did not have complete authority over states and their bodies, sources said.
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