A bench said the life span of millions of citizens has shortened and people are “suffocating” due to high pollution levels.
Expressing displeasure over the failure of states —Punjab and Haryana — to curb stubble burning despite its prohibitive orders, the Supreme Court on Monday said that people in Delhi can’t be left to die due to air pollution.
It also asked all the states to explain within six weeks as to why they should not be made liable to pay compensation to persons affected by bad air quality, saying it is their duty to provide basic civic amenities — clean air and drinking water to citizens. The apex court also slammed the central government for playing a blame game and for failing to take any concrete step in improving the air quality in the Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR).
A bench comprising justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta said the life span of millions of citizens has shortened and people are “suffocating” due to high pollution levels.
“Delhi has become worse than nark (hell). Life is not so cheap in India and you will have to pay. How much do you value a person’s life?… Right to life of human is being endangered… Should this be tolerated? Is this not worse than internal war? Why people are in this gas chamber? If it is so then you better finish them with explosives. If it goes on like this then it would be better to go rather than suffer from diseases like cancer,” the judges said, while flaying the Centre as well as the state governments for not doing anything to improve the living conditions in Delhi.
The top court also took serious note of water pollution and asked the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and other concerned states and state pollution control boards to place before it data on tackling the issue of pollution, sewage and garbage disposal in rivers, including Ganga and Yamuna.
The top court took suo motu (on its own) cognisance of the controversy regarding supply of alleged unsafe drinking water in the national capital and said it is the duty of the state to provide drinkable water to the citizens. Taking serious note of water pollution in Delhi, it said people have right to get pure drinking water. “We are literally shocked that water is polluted in Delhi and blame game is going on. What is this happening,” the bench said.
The SC also directed the Centre and the Delhi government to sit together and take decision within 10 days with regard to installation of smog towers in Delhi-NCR which would help in combating air pollution. “Time has come to require the state governments to explain why they should not be asked to compensate persons who are affected by bad air quality,” the bench said and asked the states, “Why liability should not be saddled for the tortious act of government machinery for their failure in discharging their duties”.
It termed as “alarming” the situation of stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and said despite its order prohibiting it, burning of crop residues in these states have increased. The bench said “not only the state machinery is responsible but farmers are also responsible for this.”
It also criticised the Centre and Delhi government for “politicising” the issue of water pollution and said they cannot indulge in this any “blame game” as people would suffer in this situation.
The Bench directed the Centre to constituted a high-level committee within three days to consider and work out modalities regarding other technologies, which would help in combating pollution, and said that a report be filed before it within three weeks on this issue. Only policy making to deal with pollution is not required, the real issue needed was implementation at the ground level, it said.