SC tells Centre to hold emergency meeting for NCR air pollution, says 'hue and cry' over stubble burning without basis
According to reports, the farmer stubble burning contributes only 4 percent of the pollution in the NCR region, which is termed 'insignificant' by the bench
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Centre to hold an emergency meeting on the pollution crisis and by Tuesday decide on steps like stopping non-essential construction, transport, power plants and implementing work from home to tackle the situation, saying the cat is out of the bag now as the hue and cry over stubble burning being a big contributor was without any basis.
Ordering the Centre to hold the meeting with the secretaries concerned of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, the bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana said, In fact, now the cat is out of the bag, the farmers stubble burning contributes to 4 percent of the pollution... So, we are targeting something which is totally insignificant".
It pulled up the city government for making 'lame excuses' and passing the buck to civic bodies for not taking emergent measures in handling the crisis.
The bench, also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant, said that construction, industry, transport, power and vehicular traffic are the major culprits in causing pollution and asked the Centre to take steps regarding these factors.
"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," it said.
"In view of that, we direct the government of India to 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 the 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 said, adding that the farmers be urged not to burn stubble for two weeks.
It directed the Centre and the NCR states to examine introducing work from home for employees.
At the outset, senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the petitioners, submitted that he wanted to make some suggestions and submitted that construction should be regulated rather than being banned.
He said the Centre was not willing to take strong measures in view of the upcoming assembly elections in Punjab and sought for the constitution of an independent commission to oversee the process.
The top court said, "We're in the midst of a crisis situation, we can't deal with new issues like the constitution of a committee. The government has filed a detailed affidavit. With reference to those steps you can make suggestions."
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta opposed him saying, "My friend (Singh) has a different agenda".
The bench intervened: "You want to fight or you want to argue. We are not concerned with elections and politics. Yesterday also we had clarified we are not concerned with politics, we only want pollution to come down...why bring up elections... We are in the middle of a crisis situation. We can't conjure up new solutions".
The bench then asked Mehta about the outcome of the meeting with the secretaries of the Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh governments.
He submitted that a lockdown would be the most drastic measure taken to curb air pollution in Delhi-NCR.
The other measures that could be taken would be an odd-even scheme for vehicular movement and a ban on the entry of trucks into the capital, he submitted.
Mehta told the bench that the Haryana government took the same steps including implementing work from home for employees.
"We have suggested increasing parking fees to 3-4 times, so those who travel for no reason will avoid doing so. If the air quality goes to very poor, use of diesel generators will be stopped except in emergency cases like hospitals. Public transport will have to be boosted including an increase in bus and metro services. This is what we suggested to the Delhi government," he said.
He further submitted that stubble burning now is not a major contributor to the pollution.
"I must admit that stubble burning now is not a major contributor to the pollution, as of now it's 10 per cent is what I have been told. Road dust majorly contributes to pollution. States and its agencies must be in complete readiness to implement emergency measures. Increase frequency of mechanised cleaning of roads & sprinkling of water in roads.
Ensure closing of stone crushers in Delhi NCR. So far as the Badarpur plant is concerned, we haven't directed its shut down. Stop use of coal or firewood in hotels or eateries..," he said.
As Mehta made submissions," the bench said, "On the last date we had pointed out that emergency steps are required to be taken. The suggestions you're pointing to could be part of a long term plan. How many mechanised road cleaning machines are available in Delhi."
"Are you agreeing that stubble burning is not the main cause? That hue and cry has no scientific or factual basis," it asked, and referred to a chart to show that it contributes four per cent to the overall air pollution.
Referring to Centre's affidavit, it said that 75 per cent of the air pollution is due to three factors -- industry, dust and transport.
"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, adding that it had mentioned issues like dust, industry and vehicular emission being major contributors.
"So if you take steps on them, the situation will improve. You focus on these issues," the bench said.
Mehta told the court that all the states are doing their best and a total of 85,000 KM length of roads has been swept in Delhi.
The bench said that as per Delhi government 69 Mechanical Road Sweeper (MRS) machines have been deployed by it, and asked whether they are sufficient.
Delhi government counsel Rahul Mehra said the municipal corporations are the ones which see all this as they are "independent and autonomous bodies".
Irked, the bench shot back: "You' are passing the buck to MCD again. This kind of lame excuse will compel us to find out and hold an audit inquiry into the total revenue you are collecting and spending on popularity slogans instead of looking after people."
On the machines, Mehra said, "Whatever is required, there's a commitment from from top of the Government, the Lieutenant Governor and the Council of Ministers."
"That's not the statement we want. Everyone is committed. It's the steps taken on ground level that's important," the CJI said.
Mehra then sought to take instructions in relation to Court's query from the Special Secretary. He later informed the Court that 69 machines are currently and once the MCD informs how many machines are required. funds will be issued immediately by the Delhi Government.
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 sum and substance is construction, power, transport, dust and stubble burning are the issues. Ask the committee created and decide how to implement the action plan by tomorrow evening."
The apex court was hearing a plea filed by environmental activist Aditya Dubey and law student Aman Banka, who sought directions to provide stubble-removing machines to small and marginal farmers for free.
It had earlier raised concern over the worsening air quality in Delhi-NCR and appointed a one-man panel of Justice (retd) Lokur to monitor the steps taken by the neighbouring states to prevent stubble burning, while brushing aside objections from the Centre, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.
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