SC pulls up IIT-Bombay for backing out of smog tower project in Delhi, warns of action

The top court had directed IIT-Bombay to take responsibility for the project — a large air purifier in Delhi's Connaught Place to tackle air pollution

Press Trust of India July 30, 2020 09:57:59 IST
SC pulls up IIT-Bombay for backing out of smog tower project in Delhi, warns of action

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Wednesday expressed shock at IIT Bombay's backing out of the smog tower project at Anand Vihar in east Delhi and said this was "not expected of such institutions".

The top court said it was "not at all happy with the state of affairs" of the project for installing the smog tower - structure designed as large-scale air purifier to reduce pollution - and non-compliance with its order would be "taken seriously".

A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra was informed by the Solicitor General that Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay has backed out of the project and the memorandum of understanding (MoU) regarding the work could not be executed.

"It was stated by Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General, that they have not been able to enter into any agreement with the IIT Bombay. IIT has now backed out.

"This is dilly-dallying tactics and violation of the order passed by this court has already been committed at least by IIT," said the bench, also comprising Justices Vineet Saran and MR Shah.

The bench said it has to "proceed against the IIT, Bombay as well as against the concerned persons" for violating the court's order and backing out from the basis of the order which was passed.

"This is not expected of such institutions to act in the manner it is projected in the matter relating to public interest, it is shocking that such conduct is projected by such a public functionary," the bench noted in its order.

"We are not at all happy with the state of affairs. We direct that the order to be complied with forthwith, otherwise it would be taken seriously,” the bench said.

The bench expressed displeasure as to how IIT Bombay could back out from the project after six months as the top court had passed the order in this regard in January, 2020.

An anguished bench, which said it would not tolerate this, asked Mehta to call the concerned official from IIT Bombay to explain on the issue today itself.

Mehta urged the court to give him time till Thursday. The bench accepted SG's request and posted the matter for hearing on Thursday.

During the hearing conducted through video-conferencing, Mehta apprised the bench that the authorities are in talks with IIT Delhi and National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) for the project.

In an affidavit filed in the matter, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and Central Pollution Control Board has said that they had convened a meeting on 27 July with IIT Delhi, NEERI and NBCC Ltd to discuss whether they will be willing to take up the project.

"NEERI, IIT-D (Delhi) and NBCC have agreed to take up the project," the affidavit said, adding that the authorities need to further discuss the issues regarding available designs for the project with NEERI and IIT Delhi so that the project could be taken forward in the best way.

It said that despite earnest efforts, the ministry was unable to finalise the MoU with IIT Bombay regarding the experimental project of smog tower at Anand Vihar.

It said a meeting was convened by the ministry and CPCB with IIT Bombay on 24 July to address the pending issues of the MoU for the project.

"It is submitted that during the meeting, IIT Bombay informed that it would not be in a position to certify the design of smog tower and filtration system developed by University of Minnesota as it does not have expertise in these areas, and, that it can only undertake the work of validation of performance of smog tower which is in variance with the original proposal submitted by IIT Bombay," it said.

The affidavit further said that "it may not be prudent to use tax payers' money of nearly Rs 20 crore to test the prototype project of a foreign university when no one is willing to certify the design and engineering drawings and take guarantee for its performance".

Earlier, the ministry and CPCB had filed an affidavit in the court and claimed that the MoU was not finalised as IIT Bombay has not agreed to take responsibility of overall coordination of the project and verification of works to be carried out by Tata Projects Limited, which has been involved by IIT Bombay for construction, operation and maintenance of smog tower.

It had said that funds amounting to Rs 18.52 crore have been sanctioned for the project.

In its 13 January order this year, the top court had said that smog tower be installed at Anand Vihar and the project be completed within three months.

The apex court had also directed use of anti-smog guns in Delhi and national capital region (NCR) for large construction sites, road construction stretches, mining activities, large parking sites on unpaved areas and during large public gatherings, demolition activities etc.

The top court had passed these directives while hearing the matter relating to air pollution in the Delhi-NCR.

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