Order of the National Green Tribunal regarding steps taken to control air pollution, 19/12/2023

Order of the National Green Tribunal in the matter of In re: News item appearing in Times of India dated 10.10.2023 titled “Feeling anxious? Toxic air could be to blame” with In re: News item appearing in Times of India dated 10.10.2023 titled “Delhi, Chennai studies hint at pollution link to diabetes” dated 19/12/2023.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in their reply admitted to the presence of several metals and other polluted elements in air causing pollution for which National Ambient Air Quality Standards have been notified. However, no effective steps have been taken by the CPCB for controlling and preventing air pollution from these parameters, the court noted. Further, it was pointed out that CPCB is funding National Capital Region Urban Local Bodies for construction/repair of roads and mechanical road sweepers under EPC funds. Similar funds are being also made available to Ghaziabad Municipal Corporation and other local bodies without assigning specific reasons for doing so.

Thus, it becomes clear "that amount of environmental compensation deposited with CPCB is being diverted for unauthorized purposes". The NGT directed the CPCB to give complete details of the entire amount of environmental compensation lying deposited with it and shall also give manner in which any amount out of above fund has been spent or utilised till November 30, 2023. The court also questioned the counsel appearing for the CPCB as to how the CPCB is concerned with construction/repair of roads which is the "statutory responsibility of local bodies and funds of environmental compensation cannot be diverted for such activities which are not permissible to be undertaken by CPCB and this is a gross misuse and serious financial irregularity by diverting funds for unauthorized activities".

The court expressed the wish to issue directions for recovery of the same from concerned officers of the CPCB who have sanctioned or diverted said funds for "unauthorised purposes". The counsel for the CPCB requested that before passing any order, he should be granted time to seek instructions on this aspect and place a reply before the court.

The NGT granted a month's time to file reply and to ensure that amount deposited with the CPCB under the head of environmental compensation is neither diverted nor there should be any financial irregularity as it amounts of misappropriation of funds on the part of the CPCB by providing such funds for activities which are not within the domain of CPCB.

The court said that " in the garb of protection of environment, remediation and rejuvenation, the activities which are not directly or indirectly connected with the same but statutory duties of some other statutory bodies should not be undertaken by CPCB".

Even in the reply of the MoEF&CC that admitted to the presence of several polluted elements in air, no effective action has been taken in the matter. As the counsel for MoEF&CC was not able to state a single step taken for effective control of air pollution by the ministry, a cost of Rs 25,500 was imposed on the environment ministry.

The MoEF&CC was also directed to file a supplementary reply giving details of all steps taken for effective monitoring and control of air pollution within one month. The next hearing of the case will be held on February 14, 2024.