I do not agree with your editorial “Hopes built with sand” (Mint, 19 March). The United Nations Security Council is not free from US influence. In its resolution to take on Libya militarily, one should not forget that Libya has rich oil reserves, and the US and other European countries have vested interests. Even in Egypt, the US had kept quiet, and criticised the Mubarak regime only after the popular uprising took shape. India aspiring for a permanent seat at the Security Council does not mean she should always sail with the wind. India has not shown weakness, but that the country can follow its own independent thinking, free of Western influence.
—Deendayal M. Lulla
The ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) paper “Towards an Emission Trading Scheme for Air Pollutants in India” explores the possibility of introducing a permit and trading system for air pollutants from industrial sources on the lines of the cap-and-trade mechanism used for greenhouse gas emissions. The system is an attempt to secure better compliance by leveraging technology and harnessing markets. However, this new initiative seems premature and perhaps even wishful thinking in the foreseeable future.
The foremost concern is that the system is dependent on a foundation of weak information architecture. A parliamentary report in 2008 highlighted the poor pollution monitoring infrastructure and the lack of sufficient online monitoring. Though some states may have covered some ground since then, the report points to a fundamental lacuna in generating comprehensive air quality information, let alone the consideration of trading excess pollutants. Recent improvements in Tamil Nadu’s monitoring systems symbolized by the Care Air Centre for online monitoring of pollution from industries, though a good first step, does not justify rushing into a national-level scheme. The India Pollution Map (www.indiapollutionmap.org), a website project led by this author at the Centre for Development Finance (CDF), has tracked the government pollution monitoring regime in Tamil Nadu with a mapping tool. The map tool raises some insightful questions about data accuracy and about existence of “excess” quantities. Unless this fundamental question of accuracy of information is addressed, the introduction of a trading system is likely to get mired in controversy.
The second concern is the implementation of standards. The revised National Ambient Air Quality Standards has only recently been introduced, and industry and government are yet to monitor the new pollutants under the upgraded standards. At the very least, the new set of standards has to be fully implemented and the monitoring of all pollutants has to be operationalized before a trading scheme can be considered. Finally, the more critical concern is whether market-based means of pollution control are effective? Apart from the US air pollutants trading scheme to mitigate acid rains by trading in sulphur dioxide, other country schemes have been met with mixed experiences as pointed out by the MoEF paper.
In summary, there is general agreement that India’s approach to pollution prevention requires an overhaul. But this overhaul cannot involve stand-alone expeditious schemes that presuppose that the house will be put in order before their actual roll-out.
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