The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Centre to file a comprehensive affidavit highlighting all details about the smog tower project in Delhi and why the same was not completed as per Court Orders.
A Bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari had several questions about various aspects regarding the implementation of this project, which aims to help the National Capital deal with the menace of air pollution and smog every winter.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta was granted time till Monday, August 3, to answer all these queries with details regarding funding, expected completion, retrieval of technology and reasons for delay amongst other aspects.
Notably, when the hearing commenced today, SG Mehta informed Court that the Government had communicated with officials from Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT Bombay), pursuant to which, the Institute would be signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and other stakeholders.
"After yesterday's hearing, we have been in contact with IIT Bombay and an MOU will be signed with the requisite stakeholders. This MOU will be signed electronically. We'll place it on record…
…But My lords should not feel that we tried to shirk away from our responsibility (of complying with SC's directions)", informed the Solicitor General, suggesting that IIT Bombay will be going ahead with the execution of the project.
During the hearing on Wednesday, the SG had informed Court that IIT Bombay, had decided to back out of its role in overseeing the implementation of the project. The Bench, through Justice Mishra, expressed great displeasure upon learning the same and stated that they would take strict action and hinted at drawing contempt proceedings against the institute. The Bench had also questioned the seriousness of the Government in seeing this project through.
As this was clarified today, Justice Mishra went on to ask about why there had not been compliance of the Court's December 2019 Orders.
"After we examined the proposal, areas were identified for work. Can you go back from that position?
…Our query is what about the funds? And how much time will you take? How much time will the Committee take to place the report before us? This was part of our order." -Justice Mishra
The SG insisted that the Court's Orders were being complied with and further stated that technical aspects of the project could only be answered by IIT. Upon being asked about procurement of certain parts from Minnesota, Mehta informed that IIT Bombay was to do the same.
"We have a lot of questions", replied Justice Mishra, and added, "Question is why the order which directed completion within 3 months was not complied with?"
SG Mehta submitted that he had been informed that it would be physically impossible to carry out the work in the stipulated time, and it would realistically take around 10 months to complete the project.
"I have been told that the drawing of the tower will be made available by IIT Bombay in 2 months. The technical part will take 3 months and setting it up will take approximately 10 months", informed Mehta.
Iterating that this had been informed to them earlier, the Bench asked the Government what they were doing. As the SG stated that the technology needed to be brought in from Minnesota, Justice Mishra interjected. "If you are taking the shelter of technology as a way to delay this, do not do it. You are in violation of our orders and there is no intention to comply either", he quipped.
Finally, Justice Mishra said-
"You file everything on Affidavit by Monday. If you do, its fine, otherwise the bench will have to monitor this. We will not postpone it any further. We will not tolerate this laxity."
In December 2019, a Supreme Court Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra directed the Centre and Delhi Government to ensure that a smog tower, essentially large-scale air purifiers, was set up in the Connaught Place area of New Delhi to tackle the annual problem faced by the national capital in winters. This was to be done within 3 months, as a pilot project.
The concept and technology involved was discussed with a professor of IIT Bombay, who was part of a High-Power Committee looking into various technologies and options to tackle air pollution. Thereafter, the Judges gave IIT Bombay the responsibility to take up the project.
The Centre had also assured the Court that smog guns and other similar measures would be in place, especially in areas of the national capital where pollution levels are highest. The IIT Bombay Professor, however, had opined that it would not be feasible to set up smog towers before August 2020.