The central government has issued an ordinance, making pollution an offence with a jail term that can go up to five years and a penalty up to Rs 1 crore.
The ordinance, issued on Wednesday night after approval of the President, entails setting up of a Commission for Air Quality Management for the National Capital Region (NCR) and adjoining areas in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
The 18-member commission will be headed by a full-time chairperson who has been a secretary to the government of India or chief secretary of a state.
Ten out of 18 members of this commission have to be bureaucrats while others are experts and activists.
A selection committee, headed by the environment minister, and having three other ministers and the cabinet secretary will appoint the members of the Commission for a tenure of three years.
Three broad areas to be looked into by the commission will relate to monitoring of air pollution, enforcement of laws and research and innovation. The commission will be setting up sub-committees to examine the three distinguished fields.
It will look into issues of stubble burning, vehicular pollution, dust pollution and all other factors that have deteriorated the quality of air in Delhi-NCR. The commission will submit its annual reports to Parliament and will be a central body for all purposes.
An important aspect of this commission is that the central government has proposed to replace the Supreme Court-appointed EPCA and all other bodies with this commission, making it the exclusive authority on air quality management for Delhi-NCR.
Also, in matters of conflict between orders by state governments or its agencies and the commission, the directions issued by the latter will prevail.
The commission has been given wide-ranging powers to lay down norms for environmental pollution and emissions, and will have the authority to inspect any premises, close down polluting units, and also issue order for disconnection of power and water supply.
Contravention of any order or direction by the commission can entail a jail term up to 5 years and a fine up to Rs 1 crore. This body can get a complaint registered before a court and upon receipt of such a complaint, prosecution can commence.
All appeals against the orders of the commission will lie only before the National Green Tribunal and no other body will have the authority to pass any directions or prosecute a complaint on the pertinent issues.
The ordinance has come two days after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta made a statement before the Supreme Court that the government is contemplating a new law since the enforcement by EPCA and other bodies have not proved effective.
The bench, headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, had then asked the SG to place its law before the court on Thursday.
The top court is seized of a bunch of matters relating to air pollution in Delhi-NCR and have been monitoring a PIL in this regard since 1985.