Yogesh Naik, Mumbai Mirror

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Only govt officials part of committee, which will ensure enforcement of pollution-control steps.

The state has formed a high-level panel to bring down air pollution levels, but it has not included any environmentalists or independent experts as members, baffling activists who have questioned the government’s seriousness on the issue.

The committee, headed by chief secretary Swadheen Kshatriya, comprises top officials from government departments such as health, housing and environment; MMRDA; the state roads corporation; and the police force. The member secretary of the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board is also part of the panel, which will ensure enforcement of laws and orders that seek to improve air quality in Mumbai and other affected places.

But no one from outside the government machinery has been roped in for the efforts. “The Maharashtra government has set a unique example of appointing people with no environmental understanding to handle environmental issues. This had also reflected in committees that were appointed earlier,” said environmentalist D Stalin. “The government is deliberately keeping environmental and technical experts out of decision making. It is not serious about addressing eco-issues and is taking refuge under tokenism.”

There have been growing concerns about the quality of air we breathe after the recent crisis in Delhi, which had to shut schools and factories because of hazardous levels of pollution.

Mirror had reported on November 9 that though Mumbai has not yet experienced the choking smog that often blankets the national capital, we have no reason to breathe easier. Different pollution monitors that measure levels of PM 2.5 — tiny particles that can enter the lungs — have routinely described Mumbai’s air as “unhealthy”, “poor”, and “extreme pollution”.

At 9.30 pm on Wednesday, the city had “very high pollution”, according to Plume Labs, which provides live reports.

The state environment department constituted the high-level committee following recent directions by the National Green Tribunal, which was hearing a petition by Vardhman Kaushik and other people alarmed by the pollution in major cities.

The committee’s main brief is to ensure rules, judgments and prescribed measures on pollution control are implemented at the ground level, not just on paper, according to the government resolution issued by Satish Gavai, additional chief secretary of the environment department.

The panel will also create awareness on the harmful effects caused by burning of agricultural refuse, and inform famers about the incentives for green practices. It will create a task force to ensure waste is not burned, roads are mechanically cleaned and there are fewer traffic snarls, often blamed for worsening air pollution.

The government resolution says Kshatriya can consult environmentalists and other experts, but NGOs say the committee should have them as full-time members instead.

“The government is not serious about tackling pollution. Our application for the traffic restraint scheme has pending since 2000 and the government has backtracked on its earlier commitment,” said environmentalist Debi Goenka. “It must include experts in the new committee.”

Kshatriya said the state would call environmentalists as special invitees and hear them out. “We need some experts in the panel,” he said.

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