Dissatisfaction over the Delhi government’s response to polluters is incurring a financial penalty of Rs 25 crore, by order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
The NGT issued to the state government what was described as its “last opportunity” to pay the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) a sum of Rs 25 crore as a performance guarantee, owing to hitherto lapses in its handling of the city’s pollution woes. In particular, the state government was castigated for its failure to deal with violators of pollution norms as per the polluter pays principle – “the commonly accepted practice that those who produce pollution should bear the costs of managing it to prevent damage to human health or the environment”, as described by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.
On December 8 last year, the Rs 25 crore deposit and an action-taken report against offenders was ordered. So far, the deposit has not been forthcoming. However, the Delhi government did submit a report summarising its actions, which were deemed inadequate.
A tribunal headed by NGT chairperson Adarsh Kumar Goel (a former Supreme Court Justice) stated that action constituted a mere “150 impounded vehicles found engaged in transporting pollutants.” For this, Rs 640,000 was collected, despite 30,000 or so pollution violators being identified – including the emission of toxic fumes through the combustion of various materials such as fuels and waste, as well as the activities of industrial facilities, some illegal.
“There is clear impetus for such action to be taken to curb the National Capital Region’s pollution menace. Earlier this year, New Delhi suburb Gurugram was named the most polluted city in the world whilst Delhi has been named India’s fourth most polluted city and the worst city in India for health – in no small part thanks to its staggering pollution levels.”
“There is no serious exercise of assessing the cost of damage to the environment and the cost of restoration. It is also not clear whether the polluting activities have been stopped,” the tribunal said. “The amount to be recovered on ‘Polluter Pays’ has to commensurate with the damage caused and adequate to meet the cost of restoration and deterrent so that polluting activity does not remain profitable which admittedly has not happened.” As well as the deposit, the tribunal ordered an affidavit to indicate the state government’s compliance with the orders.
There is clear impetus for such action to be taken to curb the National Capital Region’s pollution menace. Earlier this year, New Delhi suburb Gurugram was named the most polluted city in the world whilst Delhi has been named India’s fourth most polluted city and the worst city in India for health – in no small part thanks to its staggering pollution levels. As well as being environmentally disastrous, pollution is ruinous to health. It shortens life expectancy and is linked to a plethora of illnesses, claiming 1.2 million lives in India every year. Even a short stay in a polluted city such as Delhi is bad for your health – intimating dire implications for those who are exposed to such pollution on a daily basis.
Holding authorities to account will be critical in the fight against air pollution. Yet with seven of the world’s ten most polluted cities in India, it must be the case that the scrutiny placed on Delhi is not an isolated occurrence but occurs in each city and region where the requisite action is not taken to safeguard environmental and public health.