A hearing on air pollution in Delhi led to an unusual admission in the Supreme Court on Monday by Chief Justice of India H L Dattu — his grandson “looks like a ninja” because of the mask he’s forced to wear.
Justice Dattu was responding to a submission from senior lawyer Harish Salve that he had to take a steroid for the first time last week to tackle breathing problems caused by pollution in the national capital.
Salve was appearing on behalf of the court, as amicus curiae, during the hearing on a plea seeking additional levy of “pollution compensatory charges” on commercial vehicles entering the national capital.
“My grandson wears a mask. He looks like a ninja. When I asked him why was he wearing a mask, he said it was due to pollution,” Justice Dattu said.
That was after Salve told the bench: “My wife has asthma. My daughter has asthma and I had to take a steroid (for the) first time two days back. It is all because of the pollution.”
The bench termed pollution caused by commercial vehicles as a “serious issue” and listed the matter for further hearing on Thursday. It also asked Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the Centre, and the counsel for the Delhi government and civic agencies to come prepared with a “positive response”.
It also observed: “This is one case where newspapers should report as to what transpired in the court during the hearing”.
The court was hearing a new application moved by Salve, who is the amicus curiae in a PIL filed by Delhi-based lawyer and environmentalist M C Mehta in 1985. The plea seeks directives to the Centre, Delhi government and the Municipal Corporations of Delhi to ensure that commercial vehicles entering the city of Delhi are required to pay a sum of not less than Rs 600 for Light Commercial Vehicles and 2-axle, and not less than Rs 1200 for 3-axle and above.
“This pollution compensatory charge will be imposed in addition to the toll charge imposed,” stated the application, seeking enforcement of the “polluter pays” principle.
Salve referred to the report of the Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA), a body mandated by the apex court to monitor air pollution in Delhi, and said that a large number of commercial vehicles opt for the capital’s roads, instead of the highways, as it is cheaper.
Municipal records suggest that roughly 22,628 commercial heavy vehicles (LCVs and above) enter daily through the nine main entry points.
“Emissions from automobiles are responsible for the bulk of PM (particulate matter) load which pollutes the ambient air. The second major cause of pollution is the Nitrogen Dioxide (NOx) load, which again is sourced from emissions of automobiles,” added the plea.
Mehta was behind PILs that led to key Supreme Court judgments on environmental issues, from the pollution plea that led to the CNG verdict in 1998 to one on industries affecting the Taj Mahal that led to a series of new norms.
The Indian Express had reported on April 3, during its investigative series Death by Breath, that around 80,000 trucks enter Delhi every night through over 100 points, most of them unmonitored, and contribute more than 60 per cent of the pollution spewed by diesel vehicles in the capital.
The investigation had mapped the presence of Respirable Suspended Particulate Material (RSPM) in Delhi’s air at 316 µg/m3, nearly 16 times what is considered healthy by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and nearly twice that of Beijing, the next most-polluted city in the world.
Picking up several points brought out in the series, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on April 7 passed a series of stringent directions aimed at curbing air pollution in Delhi, banning all diesel vehicles more than 10 years old from plying in the National Capital Region (NCR), and sought an immediate stop to all illegal construction activity. The ban is on hold with tribunal awaiting a pollution control plan from the Delhi government.