The Commission for Air Quality Management in NCR and Adjoining Areas ("Commission") which was constituted recently vide The Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance, 2020 passed on 28 October 2020 has directed that all industrial units in Delhi switch over to Piped Natural Gas ("PNG") by the end of next month. This is one of the first prominent measures to curb the alarming level of air pollution in Delhi and the National Capital Region ("NCR").
The Commission has identified about 1644 industrial units in over 50 industrial areas in Delhi and directed them to switch to PNG by 31 January, 2021. The Commission along with the Government of National Capital Territory ("NCT") of Delhi, Gas Authority of India Limited ("GAIL") and Indraprastha Gas Limited ("IGL") reviewed the progress made by the industries operating in Delhi. It was noted that the industrial sector had contributed significantly to the air pollution in NCR. GAIL and IGL have been asked to complete the pipeline network, metering and the other necessary infrastructure in the region to facilitate an easy transition for the industrial units. IGL, Delhi Pollution Control Committee ("DPCC") and the Government of NCT of Delhi have also been asked to work in tandem with the identified industrial units in order to target completion of the infrastructure and a complete switch over to PNG by 31 January 2021. Directions have also been issued to DPCC to inspect and identify industries that are using unapproved fuels in their operations and take strict penal action in case of non-compliance.
Apart from the environmental benefits, switching over to PNG can have multiple benefits for the industrial sector. It is also more economical when compared to other traditional fuels. Since it is supplied through a pipeline, chances of accidents due to spillage or pilferage of fuels are minimised. Further, industries do not have to devote any dedicated space for its storage. Using PNG also does not require any prior heating in the winter season, thus leading to savings in the cost of power. Further, switching to PNG will ensure uninterrupted supply which will be beneficial for the business operations.
It is important to note that a task force had been constituted earlier under the supervision of the Prime Minister's Office ("PMO") to tackle the menace of air pollution in Delhi NCR. In a meeting of the task force held on 18 December 2018, it was decided that all industries which had gas supply available to them in Delhi NCR must shift to PNG by 31 March 2019. In the meeting held on 4 April 2019, this date was further extended to 30 April 2019. Central Pollution Control Board ("CPCB") had asked State Pollution Control Boards / Pollution Control Committee of Delhi NCT to submit the progress report of industries that had converted to PNG. It was observed even then that a large number of industries had still not switched to PNG even after PNG was made available to them. This direction from the Commission is in furtherance of such similar efforts made earlier by the PMO led task force.
The National Green Tribunal ("NGT") has also passed several orders in the past where industries across the country have been asked to switch to cleaner fuels including PNG. The NGT in the case of Babubhai Ramubhai Saini v. Gujarat Pollution Control Board & Ors1 directed the Gujarat Pollution Control Board to close all industries working on coal gasifiers and switch to PNG or similar cleaner fuels and technologies.
In another case of Utkarsh Panwar v. CPCB & Ors2, where the applicant had requested the NGT to order for immediate closure of all the brick kiln units that were operating in Delhi NCR due to the significant air pollution caused by them, the NGT had sought advice from CPCB on the feasibility of using PNG or non-coal gasifiers as fuel in brick kilns. CPCB in that case had submitted that a techno-economic feasibility study may be conducted by an expert agency for making an assessment on the usage of PNG and other clean fuels for manufacturing bricks in a sustainable manner and at locations where such fuel was available.
There has been a lot of discussion and deliberation on the need to focus on cleaner fuels in the past with the government and the judiciary, especially the NGT, keen to promote the usage of cleaner fuels by industries. The industries seem to have resisted the switch due to reasons related to technology, costs and availability of such cleaner fuels. Most importantly, ensuring that the necessary infrastructure is in place has always been a challenge. However, now that the Commission has issued specific directions in this regard to all the stakeholders, this might soon be a possibility. The switch to PNG will make the industries incur additional costs but in the long term it will be beneficial for both the environment and the industries. With 31 January 2020 being the deadline, it remains to be seen if all the industries will be able to comply with the directions within the time-frame, especially due the challenges posed by the pandemic, if not the harsh Delhi winter.
1. Order dated 06.03.2019 in Original Application No. 20/2017 (WZ).
2. Original Application No. 1016 of 2019.
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