WITH THE Centre stating that dust, vehicular transport and industry were the major contributors to the air pollution that has choked the national capital, the Supreme Court asked the Government to hold an emergency meeting Tuesday to decide on how to tackle the situation.
Referring to an affidavit filed by the Centre, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana said: “…with respect to stubble burning, all affidavits indicate contribution is not much. However, there is a good amount of stubble burning taking place in Punjab and Haryana. We request states to pursue farmers not to burn stubble for two weeks.”
The bench, also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant, expressed its unhappiness over the executive not being able to take concrete steps to tackle the crisis and said “it is very unfortunate we have to set the agenda for them”.
The court will hear the matter next on November 17. Since Sunday, Delhi’s air quality has been in the “very poor” category, and it is expected to remain in that zone for at least three more days.
On Monday, the CJI told Advocate Rahul Mehra, who appeared for the Delhi government: “Pollution levels have to come down immediately. That is the main concern. How you do it is your problem.” Mehra said Delhi was ready to impose a lockdown as suggested by the court during the previous hearing.
“Centre and three states (Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh), you must come up with a complete proposal. If you don’t, then don’t blame us for giving directions,” said Justice Surya Kant.
The court also took exception to the Delhi government’s reply to a query on the number of mechanised road sweepers — that the 69 machines are being operated by the municipal corporation, which could also be asked to file an affidavit.
Justice Surya Kant said: “…you are passing the buck to the municipal corporation. This kind of lame excuse will force us to order an audit of your revenue earnings and how it is spent on populist slogans instead of this (buying machines, etc)”.
At the previous hearing, the Supreme Court had asked the Centre and Delhi governments to appraise it on emergency measures to tackle the Air Quality Index (AQI) and whether steps like a lockdown or stopping vehicles can be taken.
On Monday, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, told the bench that steps have to be taken by states as well. A response action plan has been implemented since 2016 and is showing results, he said.
Mehta pointed out that the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas, which met Sunday, had recommended measures like regulating traffic entry into Delhi, shutting down the Badarpur power plant, hiking the rate of parking tickets by three times to deter people from travelling unnecessarily, and stopping diesel gensets except for emergencies.
Justice Surya Kant said: “This can only be a long-term plan…The situation is imminent and emergency steps are required to be taken.” He asked Mehta about “drastic measures” that are scientifically possible and can be taken by the Centre and states.
The introduction of an odd-even scheme, stopping entry of trucks into Delhi and, at worst, a lockdown, Mehta replied. “Why not (stop) entry or plying of all vehicles for a few days?” asked Justice Surya Kant.
Asked which factor contributed the most to air pollution in the national capital, Mehta said: “76 per cent is due to three factors — dust, industry and transport”.
Justice Chandrachud referred to an affidavit filed by the Centre and said stubble burning contributes only four per cent to pollution and that “dust, vehicular transport and industry are the three factors that have to be targeted if you have to achieve results in a few days”.
Mehta sought to clarify that the contribution of stubble burning was 10 per cent and that it continues for two months. “If you take some steps regarding these issues, we will ask the state governments to take care of the stubble burning,” Justice Chandrachud said.
Later, Senior Advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for petitioner Aditya Dubey, said it was a “wrong statement” that stubble burning contributed to only 10 per cent pollution.
He cited the minutes of Sunday’s meeting of the air quality management panel, presided over by its chairman M M Kutty, which states: “…efforts need to be intensified to control the instances of stubble burning to minimum as currently the paddy stubble burning has been contributing about 35%-40% of the total pollution load in Delhi-NCR.”
Earlier, on Rahul Mehtra’s reference to the municipal corporation on the need for buying new mechanised road sweepers, Justice Surya Kant said that in some other proceedings, the corporation had said that it did not have the money even to pay salaries.
Mehra, after taking instructions, said the Delhi government has agreed to sanction funds immediately if proposals for buying new machines are made. But the court said it wanted to see “definite numbers”.
The bench asked the Centre to decide by Tuesday evening on the non-essential industries that can be shut, vehicles that can be stopped, etc.
The CJI referred to the Delhi government ordering work from home for its employees and said the Centre should look at following suit since the capital has a large number of its employees.
Justice Surya Kant told Punjab’s counsel that its affidavit was silent on incentives for farmers to avoid burning stubble, total area under cultivation, machines needed to remove stubble, etc.