NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday gave its green signal for enforcement of a comprehensive action plan to deal with the pollution crisis in National Capital Region (NCR) and asked the Centre to notify the plan within two weeks that includes time-bound implementation of short-, medium- and long-term measures to improve the air quality.
The plan has been formulated by Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) after holding extensive consultation with Centre, state governments and pollution control boards. It contains measures to be taken for various authorities in a time-bound manner to ease the pollution level, including a proposal to increase the strength of the bus fleet to 10,000 by the end of 2018. The Centre has also accepted the plan barring two issues —implementation of BS-VI norm and imposing of pollution cess on SUVs running on diesel.
Taking the submission of the Centre on record, a bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta asked the government to notify it barring those two issues.
The plan was prepared by EPCA in April but did not contain the deadline and the court had directed it to file a fresh report with timelines. As per the plan, more monitoring stations needed to set up in NCR to keep a tab on air quality and public transport system must be strengthened to encourage people to use buses and metro.
It granted the Centre two weeks to talk to all stakeholders for implementation and notify it. The EPCA report calls for urgent steps to be taken to make Delhi’s air breathable and to meet the national air quality standards. “According to the 2009 National Ambient Air Quality Standards, the daily and hourly standards for pollutants must be met 98% of the time in a year and they should not exceed the standards on two consecutive days. Delhi will have to reduce PM10 levels by 74%, PM2.5 by 70%, and nitrogen dioxide by 37.5% to meet the standards. Similarly, key NCR cities and towns need significant reductions to meet the clean air standards,” it said
Referring to a report on Global Burden of Disease estimates for 2017, the report said that early deaths related to PM2.5 in India are the second highest in the world and ozone-related deaths, though lower than PM2.5, were the highest in the world and there was an immediate need to deal with the problem as the quality of air was deteriorating with each passing year. “Not only the tiny particulates but also the toxic gases that come entirely from combustion sources pose a very serious health risk,” it said.
Additional solicitor general A N S Nadkarni, appearing for the Centre, said the government had set up a high-level task force under the principal secretary to the Prime Minister to deal with the crisis.
“During the detailed discussion on stubble burning various options were discussed to discourage crop residue burning. Some of the technological options discussed were power generation from biomass, co-firing in thermal power plants, ethanol production from paddy and wheat straw,” the Centre said and assured the court that an interim report will be prepared on stubble burning by December 15. It said a report on other aspects of pollution generation would be finalised by next month.
The court also relaxed its ban order on use of polluting fuels—pet coke and furnace oil —in NCR and surrounding states and permitted their use in cement, lime industries and thermal power plants.
Welcoming the SC directive, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE)’s Sunita Narain, also a member of EPCA, said, “This is the first-ever comprehensive action plan that has been adopted officially to mandate timebound short-, medium- and long-term measures to clean up the air of NCR with a compliance strategy. This also helps create a template of action for all other cities of India.”
Anumita Roychowdhury, its executive director (research and advocacy), said, “NCR will have to reduce particulate pollution by at least 74% from the current level to be able to meet the clean air standards.”
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