The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Centre to call an emergency meeting Tuesday to take measures like stopping non-essential construction, transport, and power plants and also implementing work from home for the working population. It also castigated the Delhi government for virtually blaming everyone, from farmers in neighbouring states to the local municipal bodies in its affidavit, when the court had asked for definitive steps to curb the emergency situation.
A bench, headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana, directed the concerned secretaries of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab and Delhi to attend the meeting to make their submissions before the committee formed by it.
"The affidavit filed by respondents and after hearing we come to the conclusion the major culprits of pollution are construction activity, industry, transport, power and vehicular traffic apart from stubble burning in some parts. Even though some decisions were taken by the Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Act, it has not indicated precisely what steps they are going to take to control factors that are causing air pollution."
"In view of that, we direct the government of India to a call for an emergency meeting tomorrow and discuss the areas which we indicated and what orders they can pass to effectively control air pollution. So far, as stubble burning is concerned, broadly affidavits state that their contribution is not so much except for two months. However, at present a good amount of stubble burning is taking place in Haryana and Punjab," the bench also comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and Surya Kant said.
What happens now?
As per the court order, the Commission for Air Quality Management will meet by tomorrow evening and make a decision on the following counts:
(i) Stoppage of construction,
(ii) Stoppage of industrial operations,
(iii) Shutting power plants,
(iv) Stopping/ minimising vehicular entry to the NCR region and
(v) Imposing mandatory work from home.
(vi) Stuble burning
The CAQM will also decide which type of construction and industries may be allowed. The central government will also take a call on the issue of work from home for central government employees in Delhi.
The top court also asked the state governments of Punjab and Haryana to pursue the farmers for two weeks not to do stubble burning. "We direct the government of India, NCR states to examine introducing work from home for employees," the bench said.
From blame game to lame excuses, SC raps Delhi govt
Meanwhile, the Delhi government received criticism from the bench for not doing enough on the pollution front. While perusing the affidavit filed by the government, the top court said it was "all about bashing farmers and how the entire cause ( of pollution) is stubble burning."
"In the last hearing (on Saturday), we mentioned stubble burning is not a major issue, city-related issues are there. So if you take steps on them, the situation will improve", the bench said.
"In fact now the cat is out of the bag, the farmers' stubble burning contributes to only 4 per cent of the pollution as per the chart. So we are targeting something which is totally insignificant," the bench said.
Castigating the Arvind Kejriwal-led government, the apex court also said that it is "passing the buck to Municipal Commissioner." "This kind of lame excuse will force us to hold an audit of the revenue you are earning and spend on popularity slogans," the court said.
The top court also expressed displeasure over the earlier emergency meeting and said: "This is not the way we expected an executive emergency meeting will be held. It is unfortunate that we have to set the agenda.
The court, taking a stern stance, has now asked the central government and the state to prepare a report clearly stating which industries can be stopped, which vehicles can be prevented from plying and which power plants can be stopped. The report should also carry information on the alternative plan to provide power to the residents, in the event of coal-based power plants shutting down temporarily.
Delhi accuses Centre of giving incorrect info in court
The Supreme Court's stern observations against Delhi were partly made after the Centre answered in negative when asked if it thought stubble burning was the main cause of Delhi's poor air quality.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, informed the bench: "We have come to the conclusion that stubble burning is not the major cause of pollution and it contributes to only 10 per cent of the air pollution."
Reacting on his submission, the bench, also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant, said, "Are you agreeing that stubble burning is not the main cause? That hue and cry has no scientific or factual basis?" The Centre said 75 percent of the air pollution is due to three factors -- industry, dust and transport.
However, Delhi government's counsel Vikas Rai told CNN-News18 after the hearing, "The government of India has made a wrong statement in court today on stubble burning as their high powered meeting yesterday night has recorded that stubble burning even now is responsible for 35-40 percent Delhi air pollution.(pg 114 of their affidavit) Construction needs to be regulated rather than banned because it’s an ongoing activity and will cause pollution whenever allowed."
With inputs from PTI