By LE Desk

New Delhi, April 15: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the constitution of an eight-member national task force to oversee air quality monitoring of 124 non-attainment cities (NACs) in the country.

Headed by the environment secretary, the task force will have members from ministries of housing and urban development, road transport, petroleum, power, agriculture, health, and chairman of the Central Pollution Control Board, The Indian Express reported.

The task force will monitor remedial steps to improve air qualities in the NACs — places where air quality has generally remained poor and breached pollution parameters for five years — consistent with action plans already prepared, and also oversee compliance of noise control norms.

“That 124 major cities in the country are continuously non-compliant with the prescribed standards of air quality for more than five years is a matter of serious national concern which needs to be addressed urgently at all levels by involvement of highest authorities. Challenge is equally serious for areas where pollution levels are as high as above poor even though outside 124 NACs,” the principal bench of the Tribunal noted in an order dated April 8, which was made public on Wednesday.

The list of 124 NACs include Delhi and in terms of states, Maharashtra has 18 such cities, the highest number, followed by 16 in Uttar Pradesh, 13 in Andhra Pradesh, nine in Punjab and seven each in Odisha and Himachal Pradesh.

“There is no other magic wand to protect people against acknowledged sorry state of affairs. As shown from the observations of Supreme Court… India has world’s highest death rate from chronic respiratory diseases. About 1.5 million people in India die annually due to air pollution. The Supreme Court also observed that 40% school children suffer from lung damage.”

“Air pollution can lower children’s IQ, hurt their test scores and increase the risks of autism, epilepsy, diabetes and even adult-onset diseases. Severe air pollution is leading to diseases and irreversible damage to health… Grim situation is affecting right to education, work, health and ultimately, the right to life of the citizens,” the bench, headed by chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, said in the order.

The bench noted that the Tribunal has monitored the issue of NACs for about two-and-a=half years. It stated that the NGT is an adjudicatory body and beyond giving directions that are necessary for protection of the environment, execution has to be done by administrative authorities.

“Monitoring by the national task force may be with reference to the action plans of 124 NACs. The components include installation of monitoring stations, completion of carrying capacity and source apportionment studies, shifting, prohibiting and regulating activities beyond carrying capacity… timelines for execution of the action plans and recovery of compensation for delay, addressing gap in control of noise pollution, afforestation drives utilising CAMPA funds…,” the order states.

The Tribunal has also asked the environment ministry and the Central Pollution Control Board to set up and periodically update a National Environment Data Grid, linked to state and district environment data grids and to online air quality portals, to facilitate research, analysis and planning on the subject.

It has asked the task force to hold its first meeting within a month and evolve a mechanism for monitoring by quarterly meetings with chief secretaries of states.

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