Pollution control

Centre has the powers to tackle Delhi’s pollution crisis, but it is passing the buck

In the past, the environment ministry has bypassed state governments to deal with pollution.

Can the Centre bypass the Delhi government to take emergency and long-term steps to tackle the annual air pollution crisis in the capital? It can, legal experts say. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change enjoys blanket legal powers to prevent damage to public health from pollution anywhere in the country.

Indeed, the ministry has exercised these powers in the past, shutting down factories and other projects to avoid water, air and soil pollution, although, more often than not, it has done so on the directions of the courts.

In Delhi, however, the central government has decided to act as a coordinator rather than a leader in tackling the pollution crisis. On November 9, as severe smog precipitated a public health emergency in the city, the environment ministry constituted a “high level committee to propose and monitor solutions to air pollution”. The next day, it called a meeting of officials from Delhi and neighbouring states and told them to “strictly implement” existing regulations and the Supreme Court’s orders on tackling air pollution. It could have done much more. “Under the Environment Protection Act, the central government has complete executive powers to do whatever it deems necessary to stop environmental pollution,” said environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta.

Section 5 of the Act states:

“Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law but subject to the provisions of this Act, the Central Government may, in the exercise of its powers and performance of its functions under this Act, issue directions in writing to any person, officer or any authority and such person, officer or authority shall be bound to comply with such direction.”  

These powers extend to closing, prohibiting or regulating any industry, operation or process. “This provision was to ensure the central government can act in the cases of environmental crises where states are unable to take action due to local pressures,” Dutta added. “But the environment ministry has not done anything beyond requesting the obvious: that states must implement existing regulations.”

Acting proactively

In the past, however, the ministry has invoked this law to, for instance, ban expansion of industries in several critically polluted areas of the country as well as new mining activities in the Western Ghats in 2013.

In case of Delhi’s pollution crisis, in contrast, the ministry has passed the buck to the state and its neighbours. At Thursday meeting, it asked Delhi’s officials to “strictly comply” with the Supreme Court’s ban on the use of furnace oil, diesel generators, brick kilns, stone crushers, hot mix plants, and enforce regulations on garbage burning and dust control. The following day, Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan said in an interview to NDTV: “The Government of India has been in touch with the neighbouring state governments...We have instructed the Delhi government to ensure that there is no loophole in terms of what they have to do.”

But as Geetanjoy Sahu, an assistant professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, pointed out, the ministry does not need to rely on the courts or state governments to stop violation of the environmental rights of citizens. “Under the Environment Protection Act, the ministry can issue notifications or sub-legislation to address issues like Delhi pollution and initiate penal proceeding against the polluters who violate these rules,” Sahu said.

The ministry used this law to tackle the waste management crisis in the country in 2000, drafting new solid waste management rules. In 2006, as assessing environmental impact of projects became a bone of contention, it came up with the Environment Impact Assessment Notification. “It needs to be asked from the ministry why it did not act in case of Delhi’s air pollution,” Sahu said.

The ministry can proactively deal with air pollution under the Air Act of 1981 as well, said Kanchi Kohli, legal research director of the Namati Environmental Justice Programme at the Centre for Policy Research. “It has the mandate to mediate between states in such a crisis, but it has failed to do so effectively.”

Shirking responsibility

Broadly, environment is part of the Concurrent List of the Constitution. The environment ministry drafts regulations to tackle pollution and enforces them through central and state Pollution Control Boards. While the state boards can formulate their own rules and regulations depending on local conditions, they cannot dilute or violate the central rules drafted by the environment ministry.

But leave alone coming up with new directions, the ministry has been diluting its existing regulations on tackling air pollution. Take the case of industries and power plants in and around Delhi, the biggest source of hazardous nitrogen and sulphur oxides that cause respiratory ailments such as airway inflammation, bronchoconstriction and asthma. A study conducted by the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, showed that power plants, industrial clusters, restaurants and diesel generators account for almost 98% of sulphur oxides and 60% of nitrogen oxides in Delhi’s air. These pollutants are released by 20 big industries and 25 industrial sectors in Delhi and 13 thermal power plants within 300 km of Delhi. Many of these industrial units use low quality fuel, including furnace oil, illegally. While the ministry has banned the use of oil with over 500 parts per million of sulphur content in the city, it has not put into place a mechanism to check whether the industry is adhering to the norm or not.

In 2015, the environment ministry formulated new standards to cap the emissions of sulphur and nitrogen oxides by thermal power plants. But, as Scroll.in reported last month, the standards have not been imposed on all 16 thermal power plants that started operations this year. The ministry has also prepared a roadmap for another existing 300 thermal plants to dodge the December 2017 deadline for meeting the standards. For many of the 60 power plants in North India, it plans to extend the deadline till 2023.

“Had the standards been implemented on time, Delhi’s air would have been different today,” said Nandikesh Sivalingam of Greenpeace India, which has taken the environment ministry to the National Green Tribunal for not enforcing the 2015 air pollution rules for thermal power plants.

Support our journalism by paying for Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Why should inclusion matter to companies?

It's not just about goodwill - inclusivity is a good business decision.

To reach a 50-50 workplace scenario, policies on diversity need to be paired with a culture of inclusiveness. While diversity brings equal representation in meetings, board rooms, promotions and recruitment, inclusivity helps give voice to the people who might otherwise be marginalized or excluded. Inclusion at workplace can be seen in an environment that values diverse opinions, encourages collaboration and invites people to share their ideas and perspectives. As Verna Myers, a renowned diversity advocate, puts it “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Creating a sense of belonging for everyone is essential for a company’s success. Let’s look at some of the real benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace:

Better decision making

A whitepaper by Cloverpop, a decision making tool, established a direct link between inclusive decision making and better business performance. The research discovered that teams that followed an inclusive decision-making process made decisions 2X faster with half the meetings and delivered 60% better results. As per Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino, this report highlights how diversity and inclusion are practical tools to improve decision making in companies. According to her, changing the composition of decision making teams to include different perspectives can help individuals overcome biases that affect their decisions.

Higher job satisfaction

Employee satisfaction is connected to a workplace environment that values individual ideas and creates a sense of belonging for everyone. A research by Accenture identified 40 factors that influence advancement in the workplace. An empowering work environment where employees have the freedom to be creative, innovative and themselves at work, was identified as a key driver in improving employee advancement to senior levels.


A research by Catalyst.org stated the in India, 62% of innovation is driven by employee perceptions of inclusion. The study included responses from 1,500 employees from Australia, China, Germany, India, Mexico and the United States and showed that employees who feel included are more likely to go above and beyond the call of duty, suggest new and innovative ways of getting work done.

Competitive Advantage

Shirley Engelmeier, author of ‘Inclusion: The New Competitive Business Advantage’, in her interview with Forbes, talks about the new global business normal. She points out that the rapidly changing customer base with different tastes and preferences need to feel represented by brands. An inclusive environment will future-proof the organisation to cater to the new global consumer language and give it a competitive edge.

An inclusive workplace ensures that no individual is disregarded because of their gender, race, disability, age or other social and cultural factors. Accenture has been a leading voice in advocating equal workplace. Having won several accolades including a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate equality index, Accenture has demonstrated inclusive and diverse practices not only within its organisation but also in business relationships through their Supplier Inclusion and Diversity program.

In a video titled ‘She rises’, Accenture captures the importance of implementing diverse policies and creating an inclusive workplace culture.


To know more about inclusion and diversity, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Accenture and not by the Scroll editorial team.