The Bombay High Court’s interim order Monday over the worsening air pollution in Mumbai and surrounding areas holds significance as experts feel that it will ensure that authorities take urgent note of threat to public health.
The HC had highlighted an immediate need to step in due to “very poor and inadequate” implementation of the guidelines issued by authorities to mitigate the worsening air pollution.
The HC also appointed a committee of experts from NEERI, CSIR and Director of State health services to oversee the issue and asked all the municipal commissioners of Mumbai and Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) to submit a daily report on the matter to the said panel.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Sachida Nand Tripathi, professor from IIT Kanpur and Member of the Steering and Monitoring Committee of the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), said, “Now that a court appointed committee is in place, it will be able to centrally monitor the day-to-day activities of the authorities and will have a say irrespective of the jurisdiction. This system has done fairly well in Delhi, as the authorities had taken adequate action in parts of Haryana, UP and Rajasthan for activities that would affect the city’s air.”
He said that similar to how stubble burning in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh affects the AQI of Delhi, Mumbai’s air is also affected by the activities that take place in the satellite districts of Thane, Navi Mumbai, Bhiwandi.
“Wind doesn’t have any jurisdiction but bureaucracy does. Often the municipal commissioner of Mumbai wouldn’t be able to take action of garbage burning taking place in Thane or Navi Mumbai, even though the pollutants emitted from the burning site affect Mumbai’s AQI directly,” he said.
The satellite cities are divided by geographical boundaries, and the authority of taking action against these restricted activities like garbage burning and unauthorised construction works are often limited within their geographical boundaries.
The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board’s (MPCB) rules also state that the authority of enforcing penalties against bodies that violate pollution control rules lie with the urban and rural local bodies.
Others too said that the court’s decision was the need of the hour.
Terming the activities like unmonitored construction works as an “epidemic”, Stalin D, environment activist and director of NGO Vanashakti, said that the entire MMR region including Navi Mumbai has turned out into a dust ball.
“Navi Mumbai doesn’t have any industrial unit. However, several hills including the Parsik Hill range are being excavated daily for taking out stones. Due to the constant excavation, the entire district is filled with dust and the winds are carrying these dust particles to Mumbai and all the other satellite districts,” Stalin told The Indian Express.
He added that the court’s directives will allow the appointed committee to take a holistic view of the issue and simultaneously keep the planning authorities accountable for their inaction.
“In Ambernath, garbage burning is the main pollutant. Similarly, the Kanjurmarg landfill in Mumbai is the biggest methane emitter. Till date, the authorities have been passing the buck on this issue and now that the court has intervened, the authorities will have to be accountable for their action,” he said.
Advocate Aditya Pratap, who is a practising lawyer in HC, said that the independent expert’s committee that the HC has appointed will help the judiciary in exercising its power.
“The advantage of having an immediate committee is that it may operate in impartial matters and highlight the root cause behind the issue. The maximum dust in the city is being caused due to construction. To carry out excavation, rock breakers are being deployed in several sites which results in huge amounts of dust displacement,” Pratap told The Indian Express.