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India Climate Dialogue: New Ordinance with Old Challenges

The Smog Capital of India

With the beginning of winter, Delhi was shrouded in smog and the government seized the moment on 29-18-2020 and introduce a controversial ordinance. Offenders of this regulation are punished with either 5 years imprisonment or a fine of 1 crore rupee or both. In Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana, UP, and Punjab, this regulation was promptly enforced. The Government has enacted the Commission for Air Quality Management in NCR and Adjoining Areas Ordinance, 2020 to establish a new overarching body to oversee the contribution of national governments to air pollution. Parliamentarians, advocates and critics seek reforms to it or to substitute it with a new statute, typically to incorporate measures of implementation, as emissions surges in the fall and winter. Since the subject of Delhi's air quality crisis is extremely debatable, the ordinance is quite controversial.

Worsening State of Affairs

In India, the Status of Global Air 2020 Study reported that 16,70,000 lakh lives were lost, of which 1,16,000 thousand are infants who died from contaminated air within the first month of their birth. Lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness, and infertility have been attributed to susceptibility to such severe levels of air emissions. In March, Doctors For Clean Air (DFCA) cautioned that if compromised with COVID-19, individuals with damaged lung capacity could potentially have significant implications. Study from Harvard University has also shown that long proximity to PM2.5 corresponds to a rise in the mortality rate of COVID-19. The study emphasizes the significance of seeking to implement current rules on air quality before and after the COVID-19 pandemic to safeguard public health. In compliance with national air quality standards, 80% of cities have contaminated air, according to a Greenpeace India research. More horrifying, the World Air Quality Report 2019 shows that 21 of the world's top 30 most polluted cities are in India and that Delhi is the most contaminated city across the globe. In contrast to its highest thresholds of air quality during the lockout, Delhi's air pollution levels rose by 43%. In different locations, the air quality index (AQI) passed 350, swinging between "very poor" and "severe" since then.

Zero Implementation of Law

Nearly 40 years ago, India implemented the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 which seeks to 'steer towards air quality conservation and air pollution control', which was embraced at the 1972 UN Environment Conference to meet the obligations of India. Nevertheless, Delhi is still under a greater smog emergency, and the statute is overlooked yet another year. In 2014, the Environment Ministry set up T.S.R. Subramaniam Committee, which stated that the Air Act should be repealed and its stipulations should be amalgamated under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. In 2016, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) investigated the air quality regulations and concluded that the central board's directions were frequently overlooked by the state boards and that certain boards even had not drawn up clean air action plans. Over the years, the statute has been crumbling with Indian cities ranked high in the global estimation of air quality (State of Global Air 2020). Nearly zero complaints from Northern Indian States have been registered in recent decades under the Air Act despite the fact that they encounter the worst emissions every winter. The Legislation has been overlooked even by the Supreme Court (SC) and the Government. Programs such as the Graded Response Action Plan or Odd-Even Scheme bank on other regulatory requirements that are partially irrelevant to the environment. The statute is usually referred to as "toothless."

The Conscious Analysis

In Delhi-NCR, air contamination has led to chaos and the state is turning its back on the adjacent states to surrender its commitments. For 20-25 days, the combustion of paddy stubble and wheat straw creates 4-6% pollution (if the direction of air flows north-west), thus Delhi is entirely responsible for its environmental problems. Moving on, UP can receive polluted air from Delhi if high winds are blowing else if air blows from South-East then it could drift Delhi smoke to pollute Haryana-Punjab’s air because air knows no boundaries and doesn’t seek anyone’s permission to travel. The neighboring states are comparatively less accountable for the air quality in Delhi, but Delhi itself has played a crucial role in the air pollution of its neighboring regions. The distinction is that Delhiites pollute the environment for financial advantage, personal conveniences and enjoyment, while farmers contaminate in helplessness while growing multiple crops for the whole nation. experiencing both London & Los Angeles types of smog every year. For more than twenty years, air pollution has been a recurring phenomenon in Delhi-NCR, which gets worse in cold seasons. Burgeoning numbers of vehicles, factories, exponential rise in development projects, thermal power stations, burning waste landfill sites are the factors for skyrocketing air pollution levels. The number of vehicles in Delhi-NCR has accelerated from 0.92 million (2000) to 3.33 million (2018), emitting large amounts of CO, SO2, O3 and other gases that contaminate the atmosphere on a daily basis. A research conducted by the IIT Kanpur, illustrated that in Delhi's atmosphere, 312 tons of SO2, 142 tons of NO, 59 tons of PM2.5 and 143 tons of PM10 are released every day by multiple sources. Of these, 98% of NO, 60% of SO2, 14% of PM10 and 10% of PM2.5 are discharged only by the industries.

The Toothless Regulator

Analogously, in 1998, the state established the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) for Delhi-NCR region on the directives of the SC. They hardly lodged complaints or moved the judiciary against infringements and merely sent advisory recommendations to the SC. The EPCA has barely implemented its legislative authority in its 2.2 years of existence and has been acting merely as an advisory entity to the SC. It is probable that the same condition will take place with respect to the current panel. The authority to address grievances is granted under section 12. With the EPCA, such control already existed, but was never implemented. With the current reform, the same analogy is expected to happen. The rationale is pretty evident. Provided that the majority of the representatives of the commission are state officials, including chief secretaries and secretaries, it would surely initiate proceedings against them. For this very cause, in 22 years of its existence, the EPCA has never taken a single case before the court.


There are many questions about this Ordinance, including the necessity for democratic conceptual framework of legislative and regulatory reforms to solve community challenges such as air pollution. Initially it is evident that in the Delhi-NCR Area the government has taken care of the pollution control issues. This begins with the fact that the president of this committee is an appointee of the government. The Commission would be governed by bureaucrats, to whom separate powers are entrusted by the institutional frameworks. The implementing process is transparent and there is no evidence so far to indicate that it would include supervision by third parties and compliance by people. If you have good bureaucracy they can actually implement even without law. We are unnecessarily focusing on new laws but not focusing on a new bureaucracy with a different attitude towards governance.


Dr, Sangita Laha, Associate Professor & Dean of Faculty, National University of Study and Research in Law, India.

Mr. Kabir Jaiswal, Student, B.A.LL.B (Hons.), National University of Study and Research in Law, India.

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