Leading environmental experts from across the globe meet in Delhi to discuss Air Quality

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Energy Policy Institute of University of Chicago Center, New Delhi in association with NITI Aayog organised a day long event titled National Conference on Air and Water Pollution: Innovations in Regulation, Abatement and Monitoring on 7th July. The conference was attended by eminent personalities that included Justice Swatanter Kumar, NITI Aayog Advisor Mr. Anil Jain and Director of Energy Policy Institute of University of Chicago Prof. Michael Greenstone.

This conference provided a platform for knowledge-sharing and cross-sectoral engagement related to developments in national and state-level pollution regulation. The conference saw policymakers from India and abroad engage in dialogue with the world’s foremost thinkers on economic, environmental and development policy.

The conference was divided into five sessions:

  1. Command-and-Control: Successes and Challenges
  2. Legal Framework
  3. Monitoring and Enforcement
  4. Information and Transparency
  5. Market-Based Regulation: Successes and Challenges

Energy Advisor to NITI Aayog Mr. Anil Jain gave the opening remarks. He congratulated EPIC-India on diving policy discourse on energy issues in India and also higlighted the national commitment towards installing 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022 led by the Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi.

Justice Kumar called for socieites to raise their environmental consciousness. He emphasised on the need for developing policies and regulation that promote sustainable development. He also highlighted the need for economic benefits to be part of environmental schemes.

“Enviromental protection has been enshrined in our Conatitution and the Indian Constitution is the only constitution globally that lays down such emphasis.”, he said.

Prof. Greenstone, in his presentation, painted an optimistic picture towards meeting the challenge of energy access yet ensuring the enviromental damage was limited.

“Lives can be saved by reducing air pollution through market based mechanisms”, he said while emphasising on the need to dwell deep into air quality regulations and policies.

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The first session was presided over by Mr. TSR Subramaniam, Former Cabinet Secretary and Dr. V Rajagopalan, former Environment Secretary. Mr Subramaniam spoke about the need to raise awareness on air pollution as an important step before command and control. He ended with optimism on the capacity of mechanisation to reduce air pollution in India. Dr. Rajagopalan expressed concern over the high amount of air pollution in India.

“Polluters are hardly held accountable. Vast number of industries fall through the gap”, he said.

The second session titled Information and Transparency was presided over by A.K. Mehta, JS in Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Kate Logan, Green Choice Outreach Director, Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs, China, Sarath Guttikunda, Co-Director, Urban Emissions and V.M. Motghare, Joint-Director (Air), MPCB.

Mr. Mehta spoke of the current state of air pollution in India, stating that only some (and not all) parts of the county suffer from poor air quality. He mentioned that air quality data is collected both electronically and manually and both ways complement each other towards holistic compilation.

“Online monitoring of industries has seen the fastest rollout in India”, he said, highlighting the role Government is playing towards monitoring air quality in India.

Kate Logan from IPE spoke about her work in China. IPE has developed an app titled The Blue Map App that enables public direct supervision of the industries and units polluting beyond the specified norms and the opportunity for citizens to raise a voice against them by tagging them online to bring it to the authorities’ notice.

Sarath Guttikunda emphasised on the need for continous monitoring, programs to support data management to better understand sources, open information for all and public awareness campaigns.

Mr. Motghare gave a glimpse of the work done by Maharashta Pollution Control Board’s Five Star Rating programme as a first of its kind in India. The Star Rating programme aims to decrease air pollution by increasing transparency. Transparency among industries spurs abatement by impoving factory managers’ information about their own plant emissions. Transparency among the public spurs interest and discussion on the programs MPCB is adopting to decrease ir pollution among the public.

The third session titled Legal Framework was presided over by Shibani Ghosh, Fellow, Center for Policy Research; Shruti Rai Bhardwaj, Joint Director, MoEF&CC and Mark Templeton, Associate Clinical Professor of Law, University of Chicago Law School.

Ms. Ghosh talked about the enforcement mechanisms currently in India towards environmental regulation. Dr. Bhardwaj gave the Government picture and spoke of the policies in place to regulate environmental protection.

The fourth session titled Monitoring and Enforcement was presided over by Cynthia Giles, Former Assistant Administrator for Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, US EPA; Dr. Akhila Kumar Swar, Senior Environmental Engineer, OSPCB; Chirag Bhimani, Deputy Environmental Engineer, GPCB and Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General, CSE.

Mr. Giles spoke about new monitoring technologies present globally today. Dr. Swar mentioned the role Odisha State Pollution Control Board is playing towards regulating air quality in Odisha. Mr. Bhimani spoke about the the present status of air quality regulation, limitations of laws and policies and the modifications that are needed to drive better air quality. He articulated the need for innovation and use of new technologies towards reducing air pollution.

Mr. Bhushan gave a grim picture of the current state of environmental protection in India.

“We work in extremes – powerful institution, toothless institution”, he said, in a rather tough tone signalling a strong message to the establishment.

The fifth and final session was presided over by Dr. Nathaniel Keohane, Vice President, Global Climate, Environmental Defense Fund. He talked about the way US administration identified the problem of acid rain and through the right regulations they were able to curb it over a period of twenty years.

Dr. Keohane advocated the use of market based regulations. Factors such as gretaer alignment of environmental goals and economic development goals are key to drive market based regulations. It creates greater economic incentive to cut pollution, provide flexibility to business, rewards innovation, results in lower overall costs and allows greater reduction in pollution for the same cost.

Dr. Anant Sudarshan, India Director, EPIC-India, gave the vote of thanks to all participants and audience, emphasising on the need to reduce pollution at the lowest costs while promoting innovation, that summed up the discourse of the day.