Biting the Dust: A Performance Evaluation of Air Pollution and Construction Regulation in the Delhi National Capital Region

Vidhi Aid-Updates · January 14, 2019
Author(s): Vidhi Desk

A key achievement in the battle against Delhi’s air pollution problem is the concerted effort that is being made to monitor and make available accurate information about air quality. An Air Quality Index empowers citizens by allowing them to hold public authorities accountable. To strengthen this check on public functions, we also need a Regulatory Performance Index.

A Regulatory Performance Index will track and evaluate the steps being taken by our authorities to combat air pollution, especially their monitoring and enforcement functions. A Regulatory Performance Index should be able to provide us objective answers to questions like:

Did the Delhi Pollution Control Committee conduct inspections satisfactorily? Are adequate penalties being imposed on violators? How are municipal authorities exercising their powers to stop polluting activities?

As a first step towards developing this Index, the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy has created a database that aims to track information on action that public authorities have taken on air pollution, using construction activities as a case study.

Biting the Dust: A Performance Evaluation of Air Pollution and Construction Regulation in the Delhi National Capital Region 2

In 2017, Vidhi published ‘Cleaning Delhi’s Air: Implementation Action Plan’, that identified legal and executive pathways to implement already identified solutions to improve Delhi’s air quality. Through this project, we hope to track how some of these solutions are being implemented. Construction activities have been chosen as the starting point for this index because:

  • There are limited technological solutions, unlike crop burning and vehicular pollution. The effective enforcement of regulations, therefore, plays a critical role in tackling pollution from construction

  • Construction is not a Delhi-centric, but a pan-India problem

  • Construction has adverse health impacts on construction workers, who are a vulnerable group

Vidhi’s database currently has information on:

  • The regulatory architecture on air pollution and construction activities. It identifies the responsible authorities, the key obligations of builders to mitigate dust, and the consequences of non-compliance

  • The number of permits and environmental clearances granted to building and construction activities

  • Directions issued by the Central Pollution Control Board and Delhi Pollution Control Committee in 2017 and 2018 to halt construction activities

  • Responses from different public authorities to RTI requests filed by Vidhi, on the number of inspections conducted, show cause notices issued and fines imposed on construction activities

The database will also be updated with information on:

  • Court orders related to construction and their implementation

  • Laws and court orders protecting the health and safety of construction workers, and their implementation

The process of compiling the database revealed that most authorities, with the exception of the Central Pollution Control Board, do not maintain or disclose year-round comprehensive information about their monitoring and enforcement action. Some of the responses that we received to RTI requests either indicate a dismal performance of regulatory functions or a failure to maintain a record of action taken:

  • None of the Municipal Corporations were able to provide information about the number of inspections of construction sites that they had conducted between January 2017-August 2018

  • Of the 34 building and construction projects in the Delhi NCR that have received environmental clearance, self-compliance reports had been uploaded for only 7 projects in 2017 and 2018

  • No grievance redressal committees have been constituted under the Unified Building Bye-Laws

Vidhi calls upon authorities with monitoring and enforcement powers in relation to air pollution to release, at the very least, quarterly reports that provide the following information:

  • Clearances/consent/approval granted to activities that have a potential impact on air pollution, along with information about the entity to which such permission is granted, the location of the activity and conditions attached

  • Capacity of inspection teams, number of inspections conducted, violations reported and action taken

  • Number of complaints received regarding non-compliance with any air pollution-related rules and action taken

  • Number of show cause notices and directions issued and follow-up action taken

  • Number of challans issued and the quantum of fines imposed

  • Number of prosecutions initiated and convictions secured under the Air Act or the Environment Protection Act

Until the release of such information is systematised, individuals, civil society organisations, researchers and lawyers must come together to create a comprehensive database that will track regulatory action on air pollution and that can ultimately be used to create a Regulatory Performance Index.

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