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Switch industrial units to cleaner fuels: SC

🔴 The Bench, headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana and comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant, will be hearing the matter next on December 10.

Smog covers a road in Delhi on Friday. (Express Photo: Abhinav Saha)

Seeking to address Delhi’s air pollution woes, the Supreme Court Friday asked the Centre and states in NCR to submit a proposal “to switch all industrial units” in the region “to piped natural gas (PNG) or cleaner fuels in a time-bound manner”, failing which, it said, such units should be closed down.

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana said this while taking note of “immediate steps” taken by the Centre and Commission for Air Quality Management to address Delhi’s air pollution woes, including the setting up of an Enforcement Task Force to ensure execution of the Commission’s directions.

“We find that in pursuance of the assurance given to this court by the learned Solicitor General on 2-12-2021, the Commission and the central government have taken some immediate steps to further augment implementation of directions issued by the Commission with a view to achieving the desired results for improving air quality,” the bench said after perusing an affidavit filed by the Commission.

The court also allowed the Delhi government to go ahead with construction of seven new Covid hospitals subject to compliance with the Commission’s directions in this regard.

Hearing the matter Thursday, the bench also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant had expressed dissatisfaction with steps taken by the Centre and NCR states and given them 24 hours to take stern measures failing which, it said, it will be forced to intervene. After Thursday’s hearing, the Commission set up a five-member task force and filed an affidavit appraising the court of the same. The Commission also said 17 flying squads had started functioning from December 2.

During Friday’s hearing, the bench conveyed its unhappiness over the manner in which Thursday’s proceedings, when it had rapped the Delhi government for reopening schools, were reported by the media.

“One thing that we observed, don’t know whether intentional or unintentional, some sections of the media and others try to present as if we are the villain and we want to close schools,” said the CJI.

He told senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who appeared for the Delhi government, “You only said you will impose lockdown, close schools… but see today’s newspapers.” The CJI said some sections are portraying as if the court does not want schools to reopen.

“That is my complaint too. You must put the blame where it is. Today, one newspaper has conveyed in particular that the hearing was an aggressive combat and suggested that the court wants to take over administration,” said Singhvi, adding that reporting by “one newspaper is at variance with two others” and that this “shows the falsity in it”.

“You can go and explain and condemn… but what will we do… freedom of the press… they can pick up anything… You can have a press conference, we can’t…,” remarked the CJI and asked Singhvi which newspaper reported what he was referring to.

Singhvi replied it was in The Indian Express.

Joining the issue, Justice Chandrachud said some days ago, he was part of a bench with Justice Surya Kant dealing with judicial infrastructure and had suggested something constructive. But the heading that came out was “High Courts have to go with begging bowl to government”. Singhvi said court reporting is different from political reporting and it should be done fairly. Justice Surya Kant remarked that such things happen to the court every day and are best ignored. Singhvi, however, said ignoring will only lead to emboldenment. “It’s a part of life”, said the CJI, adding that “after video hearing, there is no control who is reporting what”.

At one point, when senior advocate Ranjit Kumar pointed out that polluted wind flowing into Uttar Pradesh is coming in from Pakistan as UP is on the downward direction, the CJI, in a lighter vein, asked, “So you want to ban industries in Pakistan?”

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