As the average air quality in the national capital region inched towards severe levels, Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan said Saturday the government has decided to initiate criminal prosecution against agencies which do not comply with the directives to check air pollution.
The environment ministry's decision comes after a review meeting with 41 teams of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) deployed in Delhi, Ghaziabad, Noida, Gurgaon and Faridabad, which found the compliance rate of the agencies concerned in following the directives was "very poor".
"It is disheartening to know that the agencies are not following up on the complaints received on air pollution and the feedback that we have received from the teams is that the compliance rate is very poor. So we have decided to initiate criminal prosecution against such agencies or polluters. The modalities of the entire procedure will be worked out by the CPCB in the next couple of days," Harsh Vardhan said.
"It doesn't matter how big an agency or how influential its official is, the CPCB will not be hesitant to initiate criminal prosecution against them. No laxity will be tolerated and we will not allow anyone to play with the health of people," he said.
Under the Environment Protection Act, there is a provision enabling regulatory agencies such as CPCB, state pollution boards to proceed with criminal prosecution in such matters. The provision includes fine, imprisonment or both.
Harsh Vardhan said a warning will be issued to the agency or the polluter concerned within 48 hours of a complaint being posted on the ministry's Sameer app by CPCB teams. If the polluter or the agency fails to take corrective measures within the next 48 hours, the CPCB will initiate criminal prosecution, he added.
However, he said, the time limit may vary depending on the seriousness of the complaint.
He said the number of CPCB teams has been increased from 41 to 50 and instead of two days, they will go on field inspections five days a week.
Currently 41 teams have been deployed in Delhi, Ghaziabad, Noida, Gurgaon and Faridabad to monitor dust mitigation and air pollution abatement activities.
Harsh Vardhan appealed to state governments in the NCR region, including Delhi, to give special attention to efforts to address the issue of air pollution and urged people to participate in the fight.
He said the Centre, in collaboration with the Delhi government, will soon launch a week-long campaign to combat air pollution in the capital. In February, a similar 15-day "Clean Air for Delhi" campaign was organised.
Harsh Vardhan said his ministry has called a meeting of all concerned agencies of Delhi and neighbouring cities on Monday to sensitise them about the issue and officially inform them about the decisions taken at Saturday's meeting.
Also, a meeting with environment ministers and officials of neighbouring states will be held on Thursday.
Union Environment Secretary C K Mishra said the PM10 average in September 2017 was 215 which reduced to 116 in September 2018.
The PM10 average until October 25 last year was 349 which reduced to 274 by the same time this year.
PM2.5 till October 25, 2017 was 158 and it is 115 during the same period this year.
In 2016, Punjab reported 22,259 cases of burning which reduced to 16,265 in 2017 and further to 7,371 in 2018 so far this year.
Haryana reported 4,790 cases of burning in 2016 which reduced to 4,733 in 2017 and to 3,022 so far this year.