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National Green Tribunal Steps in to Address Delhi's Worsening Air Quality


28th November, 2014, Economic Times ,New Delhi


Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar rolls out 14-point action plan to ensure that the capital of India is better managed 


Prime Minister Narendra Modi may not have had this in mind when he launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or cleanliness drive, but the National Green Tribunal has stepped in to address the Capital’s worsening air quality. 

In May, the World Health Organisation declared that Delhi had the most polluted air among the 1,600 cities across 91 countries that it assessed. Despite this, there has been little tangible action by the authorities to curb the city’s worsening air quality. 


On Wednesday, an NGT bench headed by Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar put out a 14point action plan that essentially puts the authorities on notice and asks them to step up to their task of ensuring that the Capital is better managed and more livable for its residents. The comprehensive order, which reiterates issues that have been raised separately, is the judiciary’s attempt to jolt the administration into taking action. 


“The NGT is saying enough is enough. The city is unmanaged and unlivable and the authorities now need to implement the laws effectively. It isn’t that all of this hasn’t be said before, but the authorities now need to act, to implement the laws strictly,” said Ravi Agarwal, founder-director of Toxics Link, an environmental NGO. 


The tribunal has banned vehicles over 15 years old from plying on Delhi’s roads and the burning of leaves and other material in the open. A ban on 15-year-old commercial vehicles is already part of the Delhi government’s regulations. Environmentalists see the NGT’s intervention as a way of ensuring compliance and enforcement of existing rules and regulations. 


Environmentalists are also of the view that for effective impact, the scope of the order should be widened to include the entire National Capital Region. “A periodic assessment of the effectiveness of the action plan is needed to ensure peak pollution levels during winter are brought down and the clean air target is met. That may require additional and more stringent measures. The ambit of the action plan should also be expanded to the entire national capital region (NCR) of Delhi for effective impact,“ says Anumita Roychowdhury, who heads the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment's clean air programme.


There is concern that the tribunal's intervention could end up having a negative impact. The proposed ban on parking on motorised carriageways to cut congestion without additional safeguards and conditions can increase parking pressure on footpaths and cycle tracks, undermining efforts to encourage walking and cycling and compromising usage of public transport. “NGT may give direction to remove all parking from footpaths and cycle tracks and make this non-negotiable. It may be complemented with strict enforcement to remove illegal parking along with effective parking charges for legal parking in public spaces -both commercial and residential areas,“ CSE suggested.


 Environmentalists suggest upgrading public transport in the city to discourage people from using private vehicles. A day after the NGT's order, the government told Parliament that it was concerned about poor air quality and was taking measures to address increased air pollution in the country, especially in urban areas. Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar told the Rajya Sabha the government was working on industry-specific emission standards and the promotion of cleaner technologies.