about 10 months ago
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Winter comes knocking and the air quality in the national capital starts making headlines.

Delhi once again, following the trend of year-after-year, reported “severe” air quality consistently. On an average, for the pat 7-days, the Air Quality Index (AQI) has been over 450. And to put this into perspective - an AQI between zero and 50 is considered "good", 51 and 100 "satisfactory", 101 and 200 "moderate", 201 and 300 "poor", 301 and 400 "very poor", and 401 and 500 "severe". In short, like always, we are at the worst end of the barometer.

Apart from the irresponsible crop burning, the blame can also be laid, fair and square on Central Pollution Board and its network of 25 State Pollution Boards. Their main job is to regulate pollution across the sectors. But like so many of our Govt agencies, these too do not do their job.

Yes, the National Plan was launched in Jan’19 to bring down air pollution by 20-30% by 2024 and for that, the Govt passed an ordinance to set up a 18-member team of experts and bureaucrats from impacted states. But this committee, despite the ordinance, cannot do much as its performance and implementation is directly linked with the pollution control boards – most of which are underperforming,

The reasons are same as we see in most PSUs:

  • 50% of positions vacant in some state pollution control boards
  • Meagre remuneration making it difficult to find and retain talent
  • Expansion in scope and scale of work but not in budgets and workforce
  • Acute staff shortage and huge vacancies
  • Leadership posts in state pollution boards held by bureaucrats with no knowledge and expertise in the field of pollution; often held by ministers and Govt representatives who have conflicts of interest.
  • Pollution control posts viewed as administrative and not technical
  • No clear qualifications are laid down for the recruitment of various members to the pollution control boards
  • A regulatory framework that discourages the speedy disposal of non-compliance cases
  • State pollution control boards perceived merely as a bureaucratic hurdle and not as a vital agency that could protect human health and environment.
  • Limited technical expertise puts a big question mark on the quality and utility of the data generated

We could interchange these reasons for so many of the Govt agencies – majority face almost similar issues, with quality of data continuing to remain a huge suspect.

When this is how environment and pollution is viewed at the ground level, with those in charge looking at their jobs as just that – jobs to earn a living, how will our air quality ever get better?  We have a leader who has great ideas and vision but if that is not supported by strong set of people who can make these plans into a reality, how will we ever become Atmanirbhar?

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