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Pollution in New Delhi is constantly on national headlines.

The last piece of legislation done relating to air pollution, as far as I could tell was in 1980. If I am not wrong, the ministry responsable for this should be Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

What are the changes that could be done on the legislative level to help with this menace? Are there any measures taken so far by the ruling party (BJP)?

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Indian Law is a Jungle. It seems that much of the actions taken in the last 40 years are secondary and local regulations enacted under authority granted in the 1981 act.

For example the New Delhi region is specified as an Air Pollution Control Area. This allows for further regulations to control air quality. These regulations don't require further primary legislation.

Under these regulations, The Pollution Control Committee published an updated list of permissible fuels in June 2018.

Anumita Roychowdhury, an executive director at the Delhi-based centre for science and environment was quoted in the Guardian

In the past two years, central and state governments, as well as the country’s supreme court, have pushed through a range of policies to curb the dust, fumes and carcinogenic smoke that blankets the city year-round and grows more acute during winter months.

And according to the same report, 2017 was not as bad as 2016, and 2018 is slightly improved again, "thanks to a graded-action plan that gradually bans sources of pollution such as coal-power plants and construction activity as the air quality declines." — the Guardian

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Many cities in Europe and North-America faced the same problem during the 20th century. In order to fight this problem, the governments created various laws and regulations which required both the industry and private people to cease their most polluting activities.

Among these policies can be:

  • Plant more trees in cities. Yes, this helps... a little. But it does not help nearly enough to fix a pollution problem just by its own.
  • Put limits on how much of various toxic chemicals an industrial plant may release into the atmosphere. A polluting business now has to choose between installing filters, changing their production techniques, paying a large fine or go out of business.
  • Use zoning regulations to prevent industrial areas and residential areas from being built near each other in the first place (but note that unless you are willing to forcibly tear down and rebuild violating districts, this won't have much effect on any existing cities for generations to come).
  • Apply the regulations for industrial air pollution also to household sources of air pollution, like central heating systems or private garbage incineration.
  • Mandate standards for the maximum air pollution a car may cause. Non-compliant cars must no longer be operated on public roads. Such measures may be mandatory technical measures like installation of catalytic converters on all cars or to force gas stations to sell cleaner fuel. India has already made some progress in this regard and plans to tighten regulations further in the future.
  • Ban polluting cars from cities by declaring those parts of cities which suffer most from air pollution low-emission zones. Cars which create too much pollution must not be operated in these areas. (while the direct effect of such policies is often questionable, it also has the indirect effect that people buy cleaner cars to avoid being restricted by them).

Note that while such environmental protection policies usually have a high approval rate among the general public, they are often vehemently opposed by those who are directly affected. Companies will argue that environmental regulation will drive them out of business or force them to move to a country with lower ecologic standards. This would make people unemployed, reduce the governments tax income and stunt economic growth. Car owners will be furious when they need to buy a new car because they are no longer allowed to drive their old one.

Another barrier to such policies is that the government must be able to actually enforce them. When people can get around these regulations by bribing corrupt government officials, then the only effect is that it makes a few companies and a lot of car owners a tiny bit poorer and a few government officials a whole lot richer. Any change on the legislative level is pointless when the executive and judicative levels do not enforce them.

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