NCR’s toxic air: SC sets 24-hour deadline for Centre, Delhi govt to form ‘serious plan’

“You have to work with creativity … if things are not working … We have to do something extraordinary…,” the judges told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and senior counsel AM Singhvi, who was appearing for the Delhi government.

Hours after the rebuke, Delhi environment minister Gopal Rai announced closure of all schools till further orders.
Hours after the rebuke, Delhi environment minister Gopal Rai announced closure of all schools till further orders.

Criticising the Centre and the Delhi government over the severe air pollution levels in the national capital, the Supreme Court on Thursday gave them 24 hours to them to come up with a “serious” plan to tackle the issue, saying “the emergency situation needs emergency measures”.

Warning them of taking action on its own otherwise, a bench led by Chief Justice NV Ramana asked both governments why pollution was not coming down despite their claims of having taken measures. It also asked the 30-member Commission for Air Quality Management to explain the top sources of air pollution in the Delhi NCR.

“You have to work with creativity … if things are not working … We have to do something extraordinary…,” the judges told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and senior counsel AM Singhvi, who was appearing for the Delhi government.

“If you do not act, we will step in … we have extraordinary steps in mind,” the CJI said.

While indicating that it would appoint an independent authority to monitor measures to control pollution, the bench questioned the utility of having a Commission for Air Quality Management if it ends up having on board people from different departments and seems like having no power to enforce its decisions.

“What is the use of Commission? It is nothing but another burden on the exchequer … Do we have to tell the bureaucracy every time what is to be done? What is the point of a 20-30 members committee? We can’t enforce or infuse creativity into your bureaucracy. They have to think of measures themselves,” the CJI said, while indicating that the court will sit half an hour before its usual time for Friday’s hearing.

Mehta said the government is equally concerned about the life-threatening pollution levels and requested the court to grant him a day’s time to talk to the highest authorities and come up with measures to deal with the issue.

While the apex court pulled up the Delhi government for exposing children to high air pollution levels by reopening schools, Singhvi submitted that schools were opened for only willing teachers and parents of students. “On schools, there is a lot of debate on ‘learning loss’. We reopened with the condition including the option for online,” he said.

Hours after the rebuke, Delhi environment minister Gopal Rai announced closure of all schools till further orders.

Appearing for the petitioner Aditya Dubey, senior counsel Vikas Singh urged the apex court to lift the ban on construction activity as it was affecting the general public, while seeking stricter air quality norms for NCR along with a taskforce for next 15 days to ensure improvement in air quality. He also cited visible dust around the Central Vista project site, saying no project should be allowed to continue at the cost of public health.

In response to the court’s queries, the central government had on Wednesday filed an affidavit stating that all construction activities in Delhi have been halted except the Central Vista redevelopment which is a project of “national importance”.

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