Delhi and NCR will have to reduce particulate pollution by at least 74 per cent from the current level of annual average PM2.5 to be able to meet clean air standards
In a notable ruling, the Supreme Court bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta has directed the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to notify the comprehensive action plan for Delhi and National Capital region of Delhi (NCR) within two weeks. Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has welcomed the ruling.
The MoEF&CC has two weeks to finalise the timeline of each action point in the plan with the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA). “This is the first ever comprehensive action plan that has been adopted officially to mandate time-bound short, medium and long-term measures to clean up the air of Delhi and NCR with a compliance strategy. This also helps create a template of action for all other cities of India,” says Sunita Narain, member of EPCA and director general of CSE.
“This is a very important step forward as according to the comprehensive action plan, Delhi and NCR will have to reduce particulate pollution by at least 74 per cent from the current level of annual average PM2.5 to be able to meet the clean air standards. Such a daunting challenge can be met only with time-bound action and strong compliance and deterrence framework,” says Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, Research and Advocacy, CSE.
The CSE researchers say that once this plan is notified, the MoEF&CC and the concerned state governments will have to strengthen implementation. This plan is a comprehensive set of short and long term measures for systemic and transformative changes in the industry, power, transport and waste sectors. While the Graded Response Action Plan helps to respond to daily smog, the comprehensive plan will speed up systemic reforms on an ongoing basis, points out Roychowdhury.
Scope of ban on use of pet coke and furnace oil expanded to include their sale
In yet another momentous decision, the Supreme Court has expanded the scope of the current ban on use of pet coke and furnace oil in four states of Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh to also include their sale. This helps to plug a crucial loophole which, if not addressed, can lead to leakages and diversion of these fuels.
Only the cement Industry has been allowed to use these fuels as feedstock–the Court has asked the ministry to amend its current notification within four weeks to allow usage as feedstock in cement plants. Responding to the special case of thermal power plants where furnace oil accounts for 0.03 per cent of the total fuel usage, the bench has allowed a time of one year to the plants to shift from furnace oil to light diesel oil.
For lime industries that have also sought exemption from the ban, the MoEF&CC has sought time to provide information on the size, extent and other details of the industry to the EPCA. The ministry would also notify the emissions standards and inform the court within four weeks.
The Supreme Court also heard the matter of ban on import of pet coke. Thé ministry has submitted to the Court that it is already considering such a ban, and is in advanced talks with the Directorate General of Foreign Trade. The Court has asked the ministry to also consult the various stakeholders and the EPCA before finalising such a ban. It may be noted that in 2016-17, India imported 14 million tonnes of pet coke which is more than the domestic production. “India is becoming a dumping ground of dirty fuels at a time when other countries such as the US and China are phasing out their use,” says Roychowdhury.
The Court has also remarked that given the current state of air pollution, the MoEF&CC must consider banning the use of dirty industrial fuels such as pet coke and furnace oil across India.
“It is unfortunate that the environment ministry, in its submission to the Supreme Court, has supported the position of the Union Ministry of Power to delay the implementation of new emissions standards for thermal power plants by seven years. These standards were notified in 2015 and were scheduled for implementation in December 2017. But now, the government has appealed for further extension to 2022. This is unacceptable,” says Sunita Narain.
In fact, it was submitted in the Court today that in an ongoing case in the National Green Tribunal the MoEF&CC has mentioned that the deadline of December 2017 will be adhered to. The Supreme Court bench will hear this matter in January.
“The Graded Response Action Plan has already helped to reduce the frequency and intensity of smog episode this winter in Delhi-NCR. In fact, CSE’s analysis shows that while in November 2016 as much as 54 per cent of the days were in severe category, this year in November it has reduced to 41 per cent. But for lasting and enduring results, the comprehensive action plan must get implemented with utmost urgency and stringency,” says Roychowdhury.
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