Home / News / India /  SC intervenes with tough measures to improve air quality in Delhi

NEW DELHI : New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday lashed out at the entire government machinery of four states and the Centre, saying they have failed to tackle the air pollution choking Delhi and its neighbouring areas, while passing a series of orders with fines of up to 1 lakh for those found contributing to the crisis.

Striding into the domain of lawmakers and in keeping with its power to exercise jurisdiction in the spirit of doing justice, the top court said every government official—from chief secretaries down to gram pradhans—will be held responsible for burning of crop stubble, which has led to a precipitous deterioration in the air quality of the region.

A two-member division bench of Justices Arun Kumar Mishra and Deepak Gupta summoned the chief secretaries of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to appear before it on 6 November and explain why the three states had failed to take effective steps to curb stubble burning.

On a day that saw the resumption of the odd-even scheme for automobiles plying in the national capital, the court also ordered Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party government to file detailed data by Friday to show if the scheme had reduced pollution in the state.

The court’s stricture came as Delhi’s air quality remained “hazardous" on Monday, even though a light breeze brought a measure of relief.

While the Air Quality Index (AQI) was at an average of 800 on Sunday, it fell to 467 at 7pm on Monday from 708 at 5am, according to the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) of the Union ministry of earth sciences. The level of PM2.5, particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometres that can enter the bloodstream, also remained “severe". They contain a high proportion of toxic metals and acids, which can penetrate deep into the respiratory tract.

Every winter, the national capital region is enveloped by a thick shroud of poisonous smog, forcing the Environmental Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) to declare a public health emergency and the Delhi government to order schools to be shut.

“For the sake of your livelihood, you can’t kill others. We have no sympathy for farmers as they are doing it with complete knowledge. They are violating fundamental right to life under Article 21," said Mishra on being told that the farmers need to resort to burning of the crops because little time is available for sowing between rabi and kharif crops.

This comes against the backdrop of Delhi assembly elections due early next year, giving the pollution crisis a political dimension. The practice of burning farm stubble is equally rampant in Congress-ruled Punjab and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled Haryana, exacerbating a thick smog caused by vehicular emissions, construction dust and pollution from crackers burst illegally during Diwali.

The court said the state governments should take every measure to tackle stubble burning and not just pass the buck.

“State governments are responsible for this. The government is only interested in electioneering. They do not take any responsibility. We will not tolerate this. They have to be made liable in tort. They are making a mockery of everything," said Mishra.

The apex court said its directive should be circulated on television, media, video recordings, radio and gram panchayat so that the message reaches every farmer. The gram pradhan should also make everyone aware in their village.

“Right to live is the most important thing. It’s not the way we can live. Centre and State both need to act. No room is safe to live in this city, even homes. The air quality index (AQI) level in bedrooms is above 500-600. This is the figure in Lutyens’ Delhi. Can we survive in this?" said the bench.

The court also ordered a stay on all demolition and construction work in the national capital region, and a fine of 100,000 for individuals found to be violating the order. For garbage burning, it imposed a fine of 5,000. The use of generators was banned until further orders.

The bench directed the court-mandated EPCA to meet on Monday and decide on which industries are the most polluting and whether or not to close them. EPCA was also directed to take a decision on whether to temporarily ban the entry of diesel trucks in Delhi.

Local administration officials in any area will be held personally liable in case appropriate action is not taken against defaulters. The court also directed municipal bodies to stop open dumping of garbage.

The odd-even scheme, first introduced three years ago, is an out-of-the-box idea with contested claims over its efficacy. The issue has even led to a political blame-game with senior BJP leader Vijay Goel, who violated the scheme on purpose, terming it an “election stunt".

The court said the state governments should take every measure to tackle stubble burning and not just pass the buck
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The court said the state governments should take every measure to tackle stubble burning and not just pass the buck

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said, “The smoke and pollution have engulfed the whole of North India. We are very concerned about how pollution is severely affecting Delhi and the health of the people, especially the children."

Kejriwal has blamed stubble burning in neighbouring states as being the biggest contributor to the worsening air pollution in Delhi.

Farm scientist M.S. Swaminathan, known as the father of the Indian Green Revolution, said, “I suggest that the Delhi, Haryana and UP governments put up Rice BioParks where farmers can convert stubble into income and employment. We should stop blaming farmers since it will take us nowhere."

“What the SC has ordered today is the basic responsibility and duty of the government," said SC advocate Aashneet Singh Anand.

“This isn’t a new phenomenon and is happening for five year. The government seems to be sleeping over it and is forced to act only when directions are issued by the Supreme court," he added.

Pretika Khanna contributed to this story

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