Supreme Court sets 24-hour deadline for govt to come up with concrete measures on air pollution

Bench hints at setting up task force; pulls up Delhi govt for reopening schools and exposing children to pollution

Supreme Court sets 24-hour deadline for govt to come up with concrete measures on air pollution

Photo for representation purposes. Tribune

Satya Prakash

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 2

The Supreme Court on Thursday gave 24 hours to the Centre to propose concrete control measures to check the worsening air pollution condition in Delhi-NCR which has witnessed high AQI levels for several weeks.

“We are giving you 24 hours’ time. We want you to take a hard look at this and come up with a solution with seriousness…We will take this up tomorrow morning for 30 minutes, we can assemble at 10 am. You update us about the steps, otherwise we will pass directions,” a Bench led by Chief Justice NV Ramana told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.

“In an emergency situation, you have to work in emergent ways. Suppose the temperature goes up in fever then what can be done to control it?” the CJI said, hinting at setting up a task force if the government failed to come up with concrete measures.

“Please let me respond tomorrow and let me speak with the minister. We are not averse to this and highest functionaries are equally worried,” Mehta said.

"You cannot fire bullets from our shoulders, you have to take steps. We can’t infuse creativity in your bureaucracy…You have to come up with some steps," said the Bench, which has been very critical of the bureaucracy for its “inaction and lack of planning and imagination” to deal with the emergency air pollution condition in Delhi-NCR.

"They do not want to take any decision. They want courts to pass orders and they are happy to implement it. It is unfortunate that bureaucracy has come to this pass,” the Bench had said on November 17.

On Thursday, the top court also pulled up the Delhi government for reopening schools and exposing children to high levels of air pollution.

"You have implemented work from home for adults. So, parents work from home and children have to go to school. What's this?" asked the Bench which also included Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Surya Kant.

“We are looking at this aggressively...you told us schools are closed but it is not so. Three-to-four-year-old children are being made to go to school…If you want orders we will appoint someone,” the Bench noted.

It also took exception to the Delhi government’s 'Red Light On, Gaadi Off' campaign to curb vehicular pollution, terming it nothing but a popular slogan. The Delhi government made assurances such as work from home, lockdown, and closure of schools and colleges in the previous hearings but the children were going to school while elders were working from home, it said.

"Poor young boys standing in the middle of the road with banners, who is taking care of their health? Again, we've to say, other than the popularity slogan, what else is it?" it said.

On behalf of the Delhi government, senior advocate AM Singhvi submitted that it’s taking all necessary measures to check air pollution and more than 1500 old polluting vehicles were impounded in November.

"We think that nothing is happening as the pollution level is increasing. We think that we are wasting our time,” the Bench said, noting that nothing was happening on ground to control the pollution level in Delhi.

“As a layman I am asking…the day when this matter started there was X AQI level of pollution, then tall statements were made. If so much effort has been made then how is the pollution rising further...Stubble burning also has come down,” it said.

“We are not opposition leaders…our aim is to only control pollution. You had made assurances on the first day that work from home is there and you are ready for lockdown, etc…you closed schools and colleges, but then what?” it asked.

“So, basically nothing is happening and everything is being done,” the CJI wondered.

On behalf of petitioner Aditya Dubey, senior advocate Vikas Singh said, “Today, the AQI level is 500…It’s serious and that means someone is flouting (orders). All these directions like water sprinklers, etc are working or not have to be seen.” He suggested that a proper flying squad has to be deployed to ensure that the ban on certain types of activities was uniformly enforced.

Singh took exception to the ongoing work at the Central Vista Project site. “No development can be at the cost of public health. If you go to India Gate, there is a lot of dust around. Ultimately, these bans will not work unless there are flying squads to implement these directions,” he submitted.

The Centre had on Wednesday told the top court that all construction activities in the capital by the Central Public Works Department had been stopped following the court’s order, except the Central Vista redevelopment, a project of "national importance".

In an affidavit filed in the court, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development said construction activities at Central Vista complied with the Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules.

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