Stubble burning: SC keeps in abeyance its Oct 16 order appointing Justice M B Lokur panel

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October 26, 2020 8:44 PM

A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde passed the order while considering the Centre's stand that it is coming out with a comprehensive legislation to deal with air pollution, including the aspect of stubble burning.

''Criminal cases will be decided on their own merits,'' the bench observed.

The Supreme Court Monday kept in abeyance its October 16 order appointing one-man panel of retired apex court judge Justice Madan B Lokur to monitor the steps taken by neighbouring states to prevent stubble burning which is a major cause of pollution in the Delhi-national capital region (NCR).

A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde passed the order while considering the Centre’s stand that it is coming out with a comprehensive legislation to deal with air pollution, including the aspect of stubble burning.

“The only issue is people are choking because of pollution and it is something which must be curbed, said the bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the bench that the Centre has taken a holistic view of the matter and the draft of the proposed law on curbing pollution would be submitted in the apex court within four days.

Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General of India states that the Union of India has proposed a legislation to tackle the problem which is highlighted in the public interest litigation and that it will be placed before the court within three to four days, the bench noted in its order.

Having regard to the statement, we consider it appropriate that the measures adopted by this court vide order dated October 16, 2020 be kept in abeyance until further orders, the bench said.

In that order, the top court had directed deployment of National Cadet Corps, National Service Scheme and Bharat Scouts and Guides for assisting in the monitoring of stubble burning in the agricultural fields of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi-NCR, saying all it wants is that people of Delhi-NCR can breathe fresh air without any pollution.

During the hearing conducted through video-conferencing on Monday, Mehta told the apex court that coming out with a proper legislation to deal with the issue is a welcome step.

We will come out with a legislation on this issue and please keep the last order at abeyance now, Mehta said, adding that pollution must be curbed on war footing. Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the petitioner who has raised the issue of pollution caused due to stubble burning, said that the legislation would come only by next year.
To this, Mehta said, This government acts fast.

The bench observed during the hearing that the SG has informed the court that the Centre is contemplating a comprehensive legislation and if that is so then why we should pass the order which we have passed. We don’t know what the committee is going to do and we don’t know what the Government is going to do, the bench said.

Singh, who said that the Centre is opposing the panel like it had done on October 16, argued that Lokur committee would be filing its report in the meantime. Mehta, however, urged the bench that October 16 order be kept in abeyance.

The bench, while keeping its earlier order in abeyance, posted the matter for hearing on October 29 when another pending matter related to pollution is listed. The bench noted Mehta’s submission that the Centre has proposed a legislation to deal with the issues which are highlighted in the PIL.

Having regard to the statement, we keep the order passed on October 16 in abeyance, it said. The apex court order had raised concern over the worsening air quality in Delhi-NCR and appointed one man panel of Justice (retd) Lokur to monitor the steps taken by the neighbouring states to prevent stubble burning, while brushing aside objections of the Centre, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.

It had directed the court-appointed Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) and chief secretaries of Delhi and the concerned states to assist the Lokur panel to enable physical surveillance of fields where stubble is burnt.
The top court had also clarified that existing state-level teams for preventing stubble burning shall report to and take instructions from the committee.

The states shall provide adequate transportation to those whose services are enlisted by the Committee for patrolling the highways and surveying the stubble burning in the fields, it had said.

Directing that the committee would submit its fortnightly report to the top court at the initial stages or as and when found necessary, the bench had said that authorities such as EPCA shall also render assistance to the panel and provide information sought by it.

During his tenure as an apex court judge, Justice Lokur who headed social-justice bench had dealt with pollution matters which included the aspect of stubble burning.

The top court is also hearing a PIL filed in 1985 by environmentalist M C Mehta on air pollution and had last year even taken a suo motu note of alarming rise in air pollution in Delhi-NCR where several directions have been passed with regard to stubble burning.

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