MoEF to table Bill for panel on NCR air pollution: Bill on air quality commission drops clause on jail term

The Bill has taken into consideration the concerns of the farmers following several rounds of negotiations, after they had raised concerns of stiff penalties and possible jail terms for stubble burning.

The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF) is set to table the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Bill, 2021 in Parliament during the Monsoon Season, which begins on Monday.

The Bill has taken into consideration the concerns of the farmers following several rounds of negotiations, after they had raised concerns of stiff penalties and possible jail terms for stubble burning.

“There was certain confusion among the farmers regarding penalties which we have now clarified. We have since decriminalised the act of stubble burning and withdrawn the clause for possible jail time. But what we have proposed is that an environmental compensation fee be levied on those who are found to be engaged in stubble burning, including farmers,” a ministry official said.

“While the Bill will not detail the rates of this environmental compensation, the ministry is in the process of formulating Rules, which will be published soon. These rules will have rates of the compensation which will be levied, depending on the offence.”

The official added, “We don’t believe that the levying of a compensation will be an issue with the farmers, as in our negotiations with the farmers, all aspects of the proposed legislation has been discussed, and their main concern was with imprisonment.”

The MoEF had earlier brought in an ordinance regarding the commission twice — first in October 2020 and again in April. While the first ordinance had detailed penalties, including possible imprisonment, this has now been dropped.

The commission will replace the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority or EPCA, with MoEF sources saying that the body had become ineffective over time. The new body will have the power to issue directions and entertain complaints as it deems necessary for the purpose of protecting and improving the quality of the air in the NCR and adjoining areas and will coordinate the actions of the states of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh in curbing air pollution as well as stubble burning.

The Commission will also lay down parameters for control of air pollution (such as permissible levels of emissions and discharge of pollutants), clean air as well as plan and execute programmes for pollution control in the region.

It will also be in charge of identifying violators, monitoring factories and industries and any other polluting unit in the region, and will have the powers to shut down such units. The Commission will also have the powers to overrule directives issued by the state governments in the region, that may be in violation of pollution norms.

The original ordinance had lapsed in March, bringing to a halt the functioning of the commission, which was still in the process of being set up. The ministry had come under criticism for the lapsing of the ordinance and for not taking the matter of air pollution in the NCR region seriously.

Subsequently, the MoEF brought a second ordinance in April this year, with modifications due to the farmers’ protest.

The MoEF official said that the new Bill that will be introduced during the Monsoon Session will be similar to the ordinance brought by the MoEF in April.

Officials said that all matters regarding the new commission are being fast tracked by the ministry, which has acquired a space in Delhi’s Connaught Place, currently being refurbished, which will house the offices of the body.

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