Prosecute government officials for not acting on air pollution complaints: SC to pollution board

[] Talking tough on pollution in Delhi, the Supreme Court has asked the Central Pollution Control Board to prosecute government officials, for not acting on around 250 complaints received by it, from citizens

A Supreme Court bench of justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta, on November 26, 2018, said officials who have failed to act on complaints regarding pollution in Delhi, were required to be prosecuted. “Why don’t you prosecute these officials? You should prosecute them. Let these people realise what they have done,” the bench told additional solicitor general ANS Nadkarni, who was appearing for the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). The court said this on a day, when monitoring stations in the national capital recorded air quality in the ‘very poor’ category.

Nadkarni said that from November 1-22, 2018, the CPCB received 749 air pollution complaints on their social media accounts and action was taken on around 500 such complaints. Regarding the court’s suggestion to prosecute the officials responsible for not acting on the complaints, he said the CPCB would look into it. The CPCB, on November 1, 2018, told the apex court it had created social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook, where citizens could lodge their complaints about pollution in the Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR).

In an affidavit filed in the court, which is seized of matters related to pollution in Delhi-NCR, the CPCB said that “Of 749 complaints received on social media and e-mails till November 22, 2018, about 500 complaints (67 per cent of the total) were attended by 52 teams of CPCB, while associating with the clean air campaign during November 1-10, 2018.” It further said that the teams continued ‘similar campaigns on its own, on November 13 and November 20, exclusively to attend to the air pollution complaints received on social media and e-mails. Remaining 249 complaints have been assigned to respective nodal agencies and are in the process of getting resolved’.

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The affidavit said that as per the analysis of the complaints received during the clean air campaign, the highest number of air pollution incidents related to construction and demolition activities, followed by burning of waste, road dust, unpaved areas/roads, traffic congestion and industrial emissions.

In continuation of the opening of social media accounts on October 29, the affidavit said the CPCB had set up a separate cell for the management of citizen’s complaints on social media being received through Facebook, Twitter, e-mails and the CPCB’s website, since November 5, 2018.

“Complaints received at social media accounts, namely, Twitter and Facebook, have to be resolved by the respective nodal agencies who are responsible for taking appropriate action. An efficient mechanism for resolving the complaints through social media can be ensured through respective nodal agencies, when they open their official social media accounts and follow the account created by CPCB, so that the complaints received at CPCB end can be forwarded to respective agencies. Action taken by agencies can be informed to the complainant on the same platform,” the affidavit said.

It said that on October 31, an e-mail was sent to the nodal agencies, to create their own social media accounts, so that complaints received at by the CPCB could be attended by them and the CPCB had also held four review meetings in November, with the representatives of the nodal agencies. It said that as on November 24, 18 nodal agencies have provided their social media accounts to the CPCB, which included the Haryana State Pollution Control Board, National Highway Authority of India, Delhi Traffic Police, Delhi Transport Department, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, Delhi Development Authority, Gurgaon Municipal Corporation, Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board and the three municipal corporations of Delhi.

The affidavit said the CPCB has acknowledged receipt of complaints and also conveyed information on action taken to the complainants, through social media, as well as e-mails. “The inspecting teams of the CPCB have taken spot measures such as dousing of fire by calling fire-tenders, covering of construction material, instructions to responsible persons, issuance of challans, etc., during the campaign. Some complaints were also lodged on the Sameer App, for necessary action by nodal agencies,” it added. Sameer App provides hourly update of national air quality index (AQI).

The CPCB also said that based on the feedback received from the clean air campaign, the chairman of the board had issued directions under the provision of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, to various nodal agencies including the local authorities in Delhi-NCR responsible for control of air pollution incidents. “Show cause directions were also issued to nodal agencies, indicating the intent to initiate criminal prosecution under Section 15 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, in case of failure to act in controlling air pollution incidents,” it said.

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Debora Berti

Università degli Studi di Firenze, IT

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