OBSERVING THAT what was happening “cannot occur in a civilised country” and that “we are making a mockery of everything”, the Supreme Court Monday issued a number of directives to curb pollution in Delhi, including strict curbs with stringent fines on stubble-burning in neighbouring states and construction activity in the National Capital Region.
“This is worse than Emergency. That Emergency was better than this Emergency,” the court said in an apparent reference to the state of Emergency that was imposed in 1975.
Lashing out at state governments for failing to stop stubble burning, and ordering urgent steps, the court directed the Chief Secretaries of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to appear before it on November 6.
The court also ordered a stop to construction and development activity in Delhi and the National Capital Region, and ordered a fine of Rs 1 lakh each for violators.
Justice Arun Mishra, who was heading a two-judge bench also comprising Justice Deepak Gupta, said: “Who is responsible? The state governments are responsible. They are only interested in electioneering. They are allowing people in neighbouring places to die. They have to be actionable in tort (a civil misdeed that requires compensation).”
Describing the situation as a “shocking state of affairs” and “blatant violation of Article 21 (right to life)”, the bench directed the Chief Secretaries as well as District Collectors, Tehsildars and police stations concerned “to ensure that not even a single incident of stubble burning take place henceforth”.
The bench asked various task forces set up by state governments to meet on Monday itself and communicate the steps taken to the court. “No farmer can be said to have the right to burn stubble because they don’t have the time before sowing the next crop to wait and turn it into manure… Maybe, it’s their compulsion. But they can’t create tort. It’s violation of Article 21 rights. They are telling others that they can die…So we have no sympathy for them,” said Justice Mishra.
The court warned that if there was any violation of the ban, the violator and officials from Chief Secretary to Gram Pradhan will be held responsible. It also asked the states to explain why they should not be asked to pay compensation for having “totally failed” to curb stubble burning.
It asked the central and Delhi governments to “work in tandem” on a “war footing” to ensure that there is no burning of garbage, which was also contributing to air pollution — and ordered a fine of Rs 5,000 each on violators.
The court directed that water be sprinkled on dusty roads and said the pressure at which this should be done will be prescribed by experts of the Indian Institute of Technology so that the dust is suppressed.
The bench also sought to explore the possibility of cloud seeding but dropped the idea after an IIT expert, who had been summoned, said it would not be feasible as the area involved was “vast”. The court asked the state task forces and officials of the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) to meet and decide Monday whether to temporarily disallow diesel trucks in Delhi. It asked the states to ensure that power cuts were not rampant so that people are not forced to use diesel generators.
The bench said the situation repeats every year as the state governments, the corporations of Delhi and various civic bodies “are not performing the duties enjoined on them” despite various orders.
Justice Mishra said the Air Quality Index was 500 even inside bedrooms in Delhi and there were reports that people were being advised not to return to Delhi. “There cannot be largescale evacuation from Delhi. People have to work in Delhi,” the court said.