Airshed moment: The Parliament has approved the setting up of a new commission to monitor and regulate air quality management in the National Capital Region | Photo:

Buck stops at Centre: Parliament approves all-powerful Air Quality Commission

Parliament approved the setting up of the Commission for Air Quality management in the National Capital Region and the Adjoining Areas Bill 2021 that for the first time formally considers air pollution on ‘airshed’ basis, i.e. the entire area over which the pollutants disperse due to meteorological and geographical factors, beyond state boundaries. 

The buck will stop at the Commission which will have the veto power over other pollution control agencies and will have the power to punish polluters with a maximum fine of Rs 1 crore and maximum 5 year jail. The Commission has decriminalised stubble burning

The Commission will include members from ministries of Environment, Road Transport and Highways, Power, Housing and Urban Affairs, Petroleum and Natural Gas, Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Commerce and Industry, secretaries from Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, a joint secretary, an expert in air pollution, a member each from the Central Pollution Control Board and Indian Space Research Organisation, three members from NGOs, one representative of the National Institution for Transforming India, three members from sectors such as agriculture, industry, transport or construction and representatives of any association from the commerce or industry sector. Experts point out that the top-heavy body of around 20 members requires a large ground staff to implement orders or it will have to depend on existing state agencies which will be counter productive.

IPCC report: SO2, NO2, ammonia, PM2.5 levels highest in India  

The latest report on the climate crisis by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s declared that air pollutants continue their meteoric rise across India. The report stated that the levels of deadly air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ammonia (NH3), ozone (O3) and Particulate Matter 2.5 are the highest in south Asia compared to other parts of the world.

Chapter 6 of the report, titled Short-lived climate forcers (SLCF are gases different from CO2), says a major geographical shift had taken place in SLCFs from the 1950s to the 1980s. According to the report, NO2 concentrations have grown 50% over south Asia due to the power sector growth  in India. The report noted that NO2 concentrations had started decreasing since 2011 due to a slowing economy and implementation of cleaner technologies.

The report said north India or specifically the Indo-Gangetic Plain was one among three large agricultural regions along with the US Midwest and Central Valley, where high ammonia concentrations were seen due to large-scale burning of biomass.

Uttar Pradesh to breathe cleaner indoor air ahead of polls, Centre launches free LPG cylinders drive under Ujjwala 2.0 

With elections round the corner in Uttar Pradesh, families will breathe cleaner indoor air in the state. The Centre launched Ujjwala 2.0, which is the second phase of the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) and handed out free LPG gas connections in the state’s Mahoba district. 

According to officials, under Ujjwala 1.0 launched in 2016, the Centre’s target was to give LPG cylinders to five crore women members of Below Poverty Line (BPL) households. The scheme was expanded in April 2018 to include women from seven more categories such as SC and ST communities and forest dwellers. The Centre had revised the target to eight crore LPG connections, which was achieved in August 2019, seven months ahead of schedule. Experts give Ujjwala major credit for the government’s victory in the 2019 general elections.  

Critics and Opposition point out that gas cylinder prices doubled in the last seven years, the price of the gas cylinder “shot up by Rs 240 in the year of economic crisis”.

Maruti urges govt to defer tougher fuel standards to help industry recover from Covid-19 linked slowdown 

Carmakers including Maruti Suzuki have approached the Centre to defer tougher “European-style” vehicular emission rules called Bharat VI standard by two years arguing that it will increase the cost further and dent car sales already hit by pandemic-linked slowdown. India’s biggest carmaker Maruti Chairman R.C. Bhargava warned against the launch of the new rules in 2022.

Automakers say it will be difficult for automakers to pour resources into the new technology considering the industry invested as much as 900 billion rupees to transition to current emission standards, which set out a 68% reduction in nitrous oxide gases.

According to the World bank, air pollution costs India 8.5% of its gross domestic product. According to Centre for Science and Environment estimate by 2025, India will have up to 20 million old vehicles ready to be scrapped causing huge environmental damage.

Biden to reverse Trump rules, will cut vehicular emissions by improving fuel efficiency to 52 mpg by 2026

US president Joe Biden’s government vowed to reverse the Trump-era loosening of vehicle emissions rules. The new plan will boost vehicles’ fuel efficiency 10% in the 2023 model year, aiming for a fleet average of 52 miles per gallon by 2026, Reuters reported. The plan is a big increase from Trump’s proposal for vehicle fuel efficiency of just 43.3 mpg by 2026.

In 2020, Trump rolled back Obama’s standards that had required a 5% annual increase in efficiency and made it only 1.5% through 2026. The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) said electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric will account for 8% of new US vehicle sales by 2026. The agency said by 2050, the proposal would “reduce gasoline consumption by more than 290 million barrels”, which is a nearly 10% reduction.

France slaps $12 million fine, its highest ever, on Macron govt over rising smog

France’s top administrative court, the Council of State, slapped its highest fine ever, 10 million euros ($12 million), on president Emmanuel Macron’s government over its failure to reduce smog and air pollution levels. Last year, the court had given the government six months to take corrective action or face fines. Now the government is implementing its order. Air pollution is believed to cause 40,000 premature deaths in France per year.

The penalty would be shared among various anti-air pollution agencies. NGO Friends of the Earth, which launched the pollution lawsuit against the government, will get 100,000 euros, the judges said.