Toxic air in NCR: SC raps Delhi govt for lapses, asks Centre to hold emergency meeting today

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November 16, 2021 1:45 AM

The top court asked the Centre to hold an emergency meeting within 24 hours to suggest and implement effective measures to tackle the major contributing factors for the pollution.

The apex court also asked the states of the NCR region to consider asking employees to work from home. Besides, the state governments were also asked to pursue farmers to halt stubble burning for a week or two.The apex court also asked the states of the NCR region to consider asking employees to work from home. Besides, the state governments were also asked to pursue farmers to halt stubble burning for a week or two.

The Supreme Court on Monday reprimanded the Delhi government for its failure to reduce air pollution levels in the city and said its “lame excuses” could force the court to hold a proper audit of the state’s revenue and spending.

The top court asked the Centre to hold an emergency meeting within 24 hours to suggest and implement effective measures to tackle the major contributing factors for the pollution.

A special bench comprising Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justices DY Chandrachud and Surya Kant, while going through the affidavits filed by the Centre and the Delhi government, said industry, construction activities, vehicular traffic and road dust were actually the major contributing causes of pollution in the national capital, rather than stubble burning by farmers.

Observing that only 4% of the toxic air in the city is due to stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh — as per the Centre’s affidavit that cites a scientific report which says the contribution of agricultural burning to PM 2.5 is 4% in winter — Justice Chandrachud said, “the cat is out of the bag. Farmers are blamed needlessly. The stubble burning percentage is insignificant.”

The top court also noted that the ministry of environment and forest’s Commission of Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Act had not indicated “precisely” the steps it is taking to control pollution due to industry, transportation, dust and stubble burning.

“We direct the Central government to hold an emergency meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) and discuss the steps they can take on non-essential constructions, transport, power plants and implementation of work-from-home for their employees,” it ordered.

The apex court also asked the states of the NCR region to consider asking employees to work from home. Besides, the state governments were also asked to pursue farmers to halt stubble burning for a week or two.

On stubble burning, the court said, “While it’s not the major cause … there is a lot of stubble burning happening in Punjab and Haryana. We request state governments to pursue farmers to stop the burning for a week … Punjab and Haryana should hold these meetings.”

It posted the matter for further hearing on Wednesday.

The CJI asked Delhi government senior counsel Rahul Mehra, “what drastic measures are you taking? Forget affidavits … what are you doing on that?”

The court was shocked to realise that Delhi had only 69 mechanised road sweepers. When Mehra said the mayor of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi can file an affidavit on how many mechanical road sweeping machines are needed to counter road dust pollution, the Chief Justice said, “Are you trying to put the blame on municipal corporations? Are you trying to pass the buck?”

The Delhi government told the SC it was ready to take measures like complete lockdown to control the air pollution. “However, such a step would be meaningful if it is implemented across the NCR areas in neighbouring states. Given Delhi’s compact size, a lockdown would have limited impact on the air quality regime,” the Arvind Kejriwal government said in its affidavit.

The bench asked the Delhi government to submit an action plan by Tuesday evening on the urgent measures being taken.

On Saturday, the Supreme Court had suggested the Centre implement a two-day lockdown to tackle air pollution in the capital.

During the hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the Centre and the states held a meeting on emergency steps to be taken and listed three emergency measures — introduction of odd-even scheme, banning entry of trucks in the capital, and a short lockdown — but decided to not introduce any of them right now. He also said the Centre it is not in favour of imposing a lockdown in the capital immediately, even though it is one of the measures being contemplated.

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