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Nature Doesn’t Need Us, We Need Nature: NGT Chairperson

The National Conference on Air and Water Pollution was organised by Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) and NITI Aayog

The Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) and NITI Aayog on Friday (7 July) organized the National Conference on Air and Water Pollution which included multiple sessions revolving around the various facets of innovations in regulation, abatement, and monitoring air and water pollution. Anil Jain, Advisor-Energy, NITI Aayog, said, “EPIC bridges the gap between academics and research, which is new to the Indian discourse.”

“In the Indian context, there are limited studies on the environmental impact on life expectancy, health and climate change“, said Jain, and he flagged the Prime Minister’s vision towards renewable energy and how NITI Aayog’s new energy policy is in concordance with it.

Justice Swantanter Kumar, Chairperson of the National Green Tribunal, he highlighted the importance of environmental consensus. “Nature doesn’t need us, we need nature”, said Kumar, further adding that there is “a need for incentive based implementation of environmental law”. “The NGT has always involved government consultation to structurally solve environmental problems”, said Kumar, citing the case of Yamuna river as an example.

 Michael Greenstone, Milton Friedman Professor in Economics and the College, University of Chicago, and Director of EPIC, he highlighted the three tools of the global energy challenge, which include, “access to energy, powering living standards and lifestyle”, “ensuring environment safety and health effects” and “protection from disruptive climate change, reducing the probability of the same”. He further went on to explain the work of EPIC with the government of Gujarat and Maharashtra to help them monitor and regulate industrial pollution.

This was then followed by five extremely informative and engaging sessions around various dynamics of air and water pollution. The first session was on the command and control approach to control pollution. And its successes and challenges. In a very simple form, this requires enforcing an absolute technology-based or performance-based standard with severe penalties upon non-compliance. The speakers for this session were V Rajagopalan (Former Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change) and TSR Subramanian (Former Cabinet Secretary).

Rajagopalan spoke about the traditional enforcement of environmental law through command and control approach, stating that “only 25% of industries are under online monitoring” and that the “number of parameters covered for online monitoring are limited, and since it is manual, there can be no persecution”. Speaking about water pollution, he said that “rivers continue to be polluted even when all subscribed standards are conformed to”, and the “way forward is zero liquid discharge”. Subramanian spoke about issues of governance, and questioned who should be attributed responsibility for Delhi’s pollution. “Technology from outside cannot just be replicated due structural and technical handicap, but we can take the best from these technologies and implement them”, added Subramanian.

A.K. Mehta, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change spoke about how “information can lead to behavioural change”, while Kate Logan, Green Choice Outreach Director, Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs, China spoke about her experience in China in mapping out pollution. “There needs to be continuous monitoring from a reliable source, public awareness campaigns and data management to understand the source of pollution better”, said Sarath Guttikunda, Co-director, UrbanEmissions, while VM Motghare, Joint Director (Air), Maharashtra Pollution Control Board spoke about the experience in Maharashtra and the role information plays in abatement of air and water pollution there.

This was followed by sessions on legal framework, monitoring and enforcement and market-based regulations, successes and challenges. The speakers included Shibani Ghosh (Fellow, Centre for Policy Research), Keshav Chandra (Environment Secretary, Government of Delhi), Shruti Bhardwaj (Joint Director, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change), Mark Templeton (Associate Clinical Professor of Law, University of Chicago Law School), Cynthia Giles (Former Assistant Administrator for Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, US EPA), Akhila Swar (Senior Environmental Engineer OSPCB), Chirag Bhimani (Deputy Environmental Engineer, GPCB), Chandra Bhushan (Deputy Director General, CSE), Nathaniel Keohne (Vice President, Global Climate, Environmental Defense Fund) and Anant Sudarshan (India Director, EPIC).



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