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Delhi's Air Quality Crisis : Important Supreme Court Orders On Firecrackers & Stubble Burning [2016-2021]

Aaratrika Bhaumik
10 Nov 2021 4:16 AM GMT
Delhis Air Quality Crisis : Important Supreme Court Orders On Firecrackers & Stubble Burning [2016-2021]
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As the Air Quality Index (AQI) dipped to hazardous category in Delhi and other surrounding cities following the festival of Diwali, the discussion on Supreme Court orders on regulation of firecrackers and stubble burning have again come to the forefront. The Supreme Court over the last few years has passed a number of orders stipulating directions for regulating persistent issues such as...

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As the Air Quality Index (AQI) dipped to hazardous category in Delhi and other surrounding cities following the festival of Diwali, the discussion on Supreme Court orders on regulation of firecrackers and stubble burning have again come to the forefront. The Supreme Court over the last few years has passed a number of orders stipulating directions for regulating persistent issues such as the manufacture and sale of firecrackers, vehicular emissions, air pollution and other analogous concerns. Despite such exhaustive directions, enforcement mechanisms across the country have remained weak which is why securing the right to health of citizens still seem like an ambitious task. 

Supreme Court Orders On Regulation Of Firecrackers

Nov 2016: Supreme Court Bans Sale, Stocking Of Crackers & Issuance Of New Licenses In Delhi, NCR

In a significant order pursuant to the worsening pollution levels in Delhi and National Capital Region (NCR) for nearly two weeks after Diwali, the Supreme Court on November 25, 2016 had banned sale, stocking of all kinds of fire crackers and issuance of new license in Delhi and the NCR region.

A bench of former Chief Justice T S Thakur and Justices A K Sikri and S A Bobde had also specified that no fresh licenses shall be issued for sale and stocking of firecrackers. The bench had also directed the Central Pollution Control Board to study harmful effects of materials used in firecrackers and submit a report within 3 months.

The Court was adjudicating upon a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition moved by four minor petitioners- Arjun Gopal, Aarav Bhandari and Zoya Rao Bhasin, all aged between three and four years seeking a nationwide ban on the sale, purchase and transportation of firecrackers.

Oct 2017: Supreme Court Imposes A Complete Ban On Sale And Manufacture Of Firecrackers In Delhi Reversing Its Earlier Order

The Supreme Court vide order dated October 9, 2017 had suspended the sale of firecrackers in Delhi and NCR till November 1, 2017 in a bid to test whether a Deepavali without firecrackers that year would have a "positive effect" on the health of citizens and a steadily deteriorating air quality. A Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri, A.M. Sapre and Ashok Bhushan had reverted to its November 2016 decision to suspend sales of firecrackers in Delhi.

The Supreme Court vide order dated September 12, 2017 had earlier lifted the complete ban on the sale and manufacture of firecrackers by observing that a complete ban on the sale of fireworks would be 'an extreme step' that might not be fully warranted. However, on October 9, 2017 the Apex Court reversed such a decision by observing,

"In the judgment dated September 12, 2017 the Court has chosen to adopt graded approach. However, at that time it was not within the knowledge of the petitioners as well as the Court that the CPCB had taken a stand, nearly 20 years ago, that Sulphur in fireworks should not be permitted as Sulphur on combustion produces Sulphur Dioxide and the same is extremely harmful to health. The CPCB has in the said proceedings stated that between 9:00 pm to midnight on Diwali day the levels of Sulphur Dioxide content in the air is dangerously high. Moreover, all the above authorities were also unanimous in their view that crackers should only be burst in designated places. Also the CPCB had specifically stated that joined crackers should be banned by way of their letter dated November 04, 1996 to the Commissioner of Police. Neither the CPCB nor the Delhi Police divulged this fact to this Court."

The Bench had further emphasised that adverse effects of bursting firecrackers during Diwali have been witnessed year after year. The air quality deteriorates abysmally and the city chokes. It leads to closing the schools and the authorities are compelled to take various measures on emergent basis, when faced with a "health emergency", the Court had further opined.

"This very situation had occurred on the very next morning after Deepavali in the year 2016. It resulted in passing the order dated November 11, 2016. This order prevailed during the year but the impact and effect of this order remains to be tested on Deepavali days," the Court observed further.

Oct 2018: Supreme Court Issues A Host Of Directions, Only Green Firecrackers Permitted To Be Used

In a significant judgment, the Supreme Court back in October 2018 had stopped short of a complete ban and had instead permitted only "low-emission" or "green" firecrackers to be used and manufactured. All high-emission firecrackers such as sparklers, rockets and especially joined fireworks called ladis were banned in an effort to balance the right to livelihood of firecracker manufacturers and protecting the right to health of the citizens.

A Bench comprising Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan also issued a host of directions to ensure regulation of firecrackers.

Ban On Online Sale Of Firecrackers By E-Commerce Websites

The Court had explicitly banned the online sale of firecrackers by e-commerce websites thus plugging another loophole often misused. No e-commerce websites, including Flipkart, Amazon etc were permitted to accept any online orders and further it was ordered that if such e-commerce companies were found to be in violation, they would be hauled up for contempt of Court proceedings and other monetary penalties as well.

Fixed Duration Of Hours Specified For Bursting Of Firecrackers

Furthermore, the Court had also allocated fixed duration for bursting of firecrackers. On the day of Diwali and other religious festivals in 2018, bursting of crackers was permitted between 8 PM and 10 PM. On Christmas Eve and New Year, it was allowed only between 11.45 PM and 12.45 AM. The Bench had also emphasised that firecrackers would only be allowed to be used in designated areas.

PESO instructed to inspect composition of firecrackers

The government agency Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) was also directed to review the clinical composition of firecrackers and ensure that only firecrackers with permitted chemicals are allowed to be sold and used during Diwali and other festivals. PESO was also directed to suspend the licenses of manufacturers of banned fireworks and ensure appropriate disposal of such stock.

Barium salts in the fireworks banned

The Supreme Court had further prohibited the use of barium salts in firecrackers. Other banned chemicals such as Lithium/Arsenic/ Antimony/Lead/Mercury were also instructed not to be used in the manufacture of firecrackers.

State Governments and Centre directed to designate areas for community firecracking

Although the Supreme Court had permitted community firecracking, the Union of India, Government of NCT of Delhi and the State Governments were ordered to pre-identify and pre-designate areas for such purpose. The concerned authorities had been instructed to complete such an exercise within a period of 1 week.

Station House Officer (SHO) of the concerned police stations to be personally liable for violations

Recognising that enforcement is key, Supreme Court had emphasised that the Station House Officer (SHO) of the concerned Police Station of the area would be held personally liable for any violation and that contempt of court proceedings would also be initiated against such erring officials.

Central Pollution Control Board and State Pollution Control Boards directed to maintain strict vigil

Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and Pollution Control Committees (SPCBs/PCCs) of the States and Union Territories had been asked to carry out short-term monitoring in their cities for 14 days (commencing from 7 days prior to Diwali and ending 7 days after Diwali) for the parameters for the short-term Ambient Air Quality Criteria Values (AAQCVs) proposed by CPCB with regard to bursting of firecrackers. This will help in generation of data on pollution caused by the bursting of firecrackers and would be helpful for regulation and control quantity of Aluminum, Barium and Iron used in the manufacture of firecrackers, the Court had specified.

Nov 2020: 'Preservation Of Life Important Than Festivals': Supreme Court Affirms Calcutta High Court Order On Complete Ban On Sale And Use Of Firecrackers

The Supreme Court in November 2020 had affirmed a Calcutta High Court order imposing a blanket ban on the sale and bursting of firecrackers during Diwali, Chatt Puja, Kali Puja and other festivals in the entire state of West Bengal. A vacation Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee had dismissed a special leave petition filed against a November 5, 2020 order passed by a Division Bench of the High Court.

During the hearing, Justice Chandrachud had observed that preservation of life was more important during the COVID-19 pandemic than the celebration of festivals.

"High Courts know the local situation better. Of course, festivals are an important part of our culture. But we are in the middle of a pandemic. There can be no greater value than the preservation of life. We understand this may involve hardship. But, look at COVID-19 affected people in hospitals, elderly people etc. Can anyone step out of the house in Calcutta, Delhi or any other part of the city today?", Justice Chandrachud had orally remarked.

Furthermore, Senior Advocate Siddharth Bhatnagar appearing for the petitioner Guatam Roy had submitted before the Bench that the High Court had no empirical data to arrive at the conclusion regarding the necessity of cracker ban.

Disagreeing with such a contention, Justice Chandrachud had remarked,

"There are judges living through the pandemic. Advocates living through the pandemic. Trust us, judges are conscious that these festivals mean a lot. But there are some values above festivals. Life itself has been imperiled at this time. Anything that contributes to improving life for senior citizens, people with comorbidities etc should be encouraged".

A Bench of Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Arijit Banerjee of the Calcutta High Court had banned the use and sale of firecrackers during Diwali and other festivals in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

"For this purpose, only wax or oil-based diyas would have to suffice, for the greater good of the citizens and in the larger public interest. This direction as to firecrackers will be effective all over the State and will cover not only the Kali Puja and Diwali celebrations, but also the Chhat Puja, Jagadhatri Puja and Guru Nanak's birthday celebrations thereafter", the Bench had further specified.

Nov 2020: Supreme Court Modifies Telangana High Court's Order Imposing A Complete Ban On Firecrackers

The Supreme Court in November 2020 had modified an order of the Telangana High Court that had imposed a complete and immediate ban on the sale and use of firecrackers across the state during Diwali to fall in line with the directions issued by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on November 9, 2020. This was a contrarian stance taken in comparison with the aforementioned order of the Apex Court wherein the Court had refused to interfere with a similar order of the Calcutta High Court.

On November 12, the Telangana High Court had ordered the State Government to ban the sale and bursting of crackers in the State, and had further directed them to give wide publicity to the ban. Despite being informed that the NGT guidelines were being followed by the State, the Court had observed that the use of firecrackers might contribute to the spread of COVID-19 and had accordingly proceeded to issue a complete ban.

The NGT had imposed a complete ban on the sale and use of all kinds of firecrackers in Delhi NCR from the midnight of November 9-10, 2020 to the midnight of November 30 - December 1, 2020. However, in places where AQI (Air Quality Index) is deemed to be moderate or below, only green crackers were permitted to be sold and its use restricted to only two hours during festivals.

A vacation bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and Sanjiv Khanna of the Supreme Court had stated that the NGT's guidelines applied to the State of Telangana and that it must comply with the directions in letter and spirit.

"All concerned with the state of Telangana must comply with the directions in letter in spirit. We are conscious of the fact that the Respondents are not served but in view of the peculiar situation and urgency involved, the impugned order stands modified in line with the NGT directions issued on November 9, 2020", the Bench had observed.

July 2021: Supreme Court Upholds NGT Ban On Firecrackers In Delhi-NCR Regions Having 'Poor' Air Quality

The Supreme Court in July 2021 had dismissed appeals challenging the National Green Tribunal's Order which had imposed an complete ban on the sale and use of all firecrackers during the COVID-19 pandemic in NCR and other cities in India wherein the Air Quality Index (AQI) was poor.

Stating that authorities may permit sale and use of firecrackers as per the category of AQI, a Bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and Sanjiv Khanna had ordered that the same was addressed in the NGT's order and that no further clarification or deliberation was required.

"Grievance was expressed that manufacturing activities will also be prohibited in the concerned area if the Air Quality falls. The impugned Order does not deal with that situation. If the situation is covered by general directions of the Supreme Court, it must be followed in letter and spirit. In other words, these appeals are devoid of merit and are dismissed", the Supreme Court had directed.

In December 2020, a Bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice AK Goel had directed for the prohibition of use of firecrackers in areas wherein the AQI was poor in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It had further directed that only green crackers could be used during Christmas and New Year celebrations for a specified period of time. Furthermore, District Magistrates had been directed to ensure that firecrackers which had been banned would not be sold, and were given the authority to recover compensation in cases of violations.

Sep 2021: Supreme Court Admonishes Firecracker Manufacturers For Using Banned Chemicals As Indicated In CBI Report

The Supreme Court in September 2021 had expressed strong reservations to the fact that the preliminary enquiry report submitted by the Joint Director, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) at Chennai had divulged that six firecracker manufacturers based in Tamil Nadu had been using barium and barium salts in the making of firecrackers in express violation of the ban imposed by the Court on the use of such chemicals.

On March 3, 2020, the Apex Court had issued notice to the respondents-manufacturers M/s Standard Fireworks, M/s Hindustan Fireworks, M/s Vinayaga Fireworks Industries, M/s Shree Mariamman Fireworks, M/s Shree Suryakala Fireworks and M/s Selva Vinayagar Fireworks, to show cause why they should not be punished for contempt of this Court for the alleged violation of the Court's earlier orders.

A Bench comprising Justices M R Shah and A S Bopanna was adjudicating upon upon an application alleging violation of the order dated February 10, 2017 banning the use of certain chemicals that were dangerous & beyond safety limits in the fireworks by the manufacturers.

"Considering the report submitted by the CBI, it prima facie appears that the Court's earlier orders on use of barium/barium salts as well as orders passed by the Court on labelling of fireworks have been violated", the Court had recorded in its order.

"The preliminary inquiry report of the CBI is serious. It is revealed that huge quantity of barium was purchased in last one year. If it is banned, how it was purchased? This is a very serious thing", Justice MR Shah, the presiding judge of the bench had orally remarked after perusing the report submitted by Joint Director of CBI at Chennai.

Pursuant to a perusal of the preliminary inquiry report submitted by the CBI, the Bench noted that there had been a 'flagrant violation' of the Court's earlier orders by the manufacturing companies. It was found that the respondent manufacturers had used banned chemicals such as barium and barium salts while manufacturing the firecrackers.

"Various samples of finished, semi-finished and raw material samples were collected from manufacturing factories which were sent for chemical analysis. It has been found that in many firecrackers barium and barium salts have been used by the manufacturers", the Bench had observed further.

Oct 2021: Supreme Court Issues Directions Making Authorities Personally Liable If Banned Firecrackers Are Found To Be Made Or Used

The Supreme Court on October 29, 2021 issued a series of directions to ensure the strict implementation of its earlier orders banning the use of barium-based chemicals in fire crackers and allowing only the use of "green crackers".

A bench comprising Justices MR Shah and AS Bopanna held that that if it was found that any banned firecrackers are manufactured, sold and used in any particular area, the Chief Secretary of the concerned State(s), the Secretary (Homes) of the concerned State(s) and the Commissioner of Police of the concerned area, District Superintendent of Police of the concerned area and the SHO/Police Officer in-charge of the concerned police station shall be held personally liable.

Lapses will be viewed seriously; authorities will be held personally liable

Opining that any violation of its directions would have stringent consequences, the Court observed,

"Any lapse on the part of the State Governments/State Agencies and Union Territories shall be viewed very seriously and if it is found that any banned firecrackers are manufactured, sold and used in any particular area, the Chief Secretary of the concerned State(s), the Secretary (Homes) of the concerned State(s) and the Commissioner of Police of the concerned area, District Superintendent of Police of the concerned area and the SHO/Police Officer in-charge of the concerned police station shall be held personally liable. Nobody can be permitted to flout and/or disobey the directions issued by this Court/Courts. Any wilful and deliberate disobedience shall have to be viewed very seriously"

No blanket ban on firecrackers

The Court in its order made clear that there was no total ban on use of firecrackers and said that only those firecrackers were banned that contained barium salts. "It is made clear that there is no total ban on use of firecrackers. Only those firecrackers are banned, as directed hereinabove, which are found to be injurious to health and affecting the health of the citizens, more particularly the senior citizens and the children," Court further stated.

Give wide publicity to the order: SC directs States/UTs

The bench further directed the States/Union Territories to give due publicity through electronic media/print media/local cable services to make the people aware and know the directions issued by the Apex Court with respect to manufacture, use and sale of banned firecrackers.

The Court also noted in its order there was an occasion wherein firecracker manufacturers had sought relief for permitting them to manufacture fireworks with Barium substitute i.e Barium Nitrate. However the Bench observed that the same had not been permitted till date and that the use of Barium Salts in the fireworks continues to be banned.

Under the guise of 'green crackers' banned chemicals firecrackers are being sold

The Court further acknowledged that banned firecrackers are being sold under the pretext of green crackers.

"Even though they are banned, the manufacturing, selling and using of joined firecrackers have been continued and the same is being used in blatant violation of the directions issued by this Court. It is reported that even under the guise of 'green crackers' banned chemicals firecrackers are being sold and there is a mislabelling on the boxes and even the QR codes provided on the boxes of 'green crackers' are alleged to be fake," bench further noted in their order.

Right to health cannot be infringed on account of celebration

Opining that the Apex Court had earlier issued directions from time to time in the larger public interest and having found that such use of banned fireworks affects the health of innocent citizens including the senior citizens and the children the Court observed,

"It is the duty of all the States/State Agencies to see that the directions issued by this Court in the earlier orders reproduced hereinabove are strictly complied with. No authority can be permitted the violation of the directions issued by this Court and permit banned firecrackers under the guise of celebration. Celebration cannot be at the cost of the other's health. Under the guise of celebration, nobody can be permitted to infringe the right to health of the others, guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and nobody can be permitted to play with the life of the others, more particularly the senior citizens and the children."

Enforcement agencies lack the desire to implement Court's directions

Remarking that everybody including the implementing agencies were bound to see that the Top Court's directions were issued and followed in true spirit, the Bench observed,

"It prima facie appears that the implementing agencies of the concerned States either lack desire to implement the directions issued by this Court or they close their eyes for whatever reasons. Despite the use of Barium Salts in the firecrackers was banned; manufacture and use of the joined fireworks have been banned and transporting and selling them across the country have also been banned physically and/or online, the banned firecrackers are being manufactured, transported, sold and used."

Nov 2021: Supreme Court Sets Aside Calcutta HC's Total Ban Of Firecrackers In West Bengal; State To Ensure No Import Of Banned Firecrackers

The Supreme Court on November 1 set aside the order of the Calcutta High Court which had imposed a complete ban of use of firecrackers in the State of West Bengal. The Court observed that the High Court ought to have given opportunities to the authorities to place on record if any mechanism was in place to ensure that only "green crackers", as permitted by the Supreme Court, are being used.

"We are of the view that if the High Court wanted to impose a complete ban, it should have called upon the parties to offer explanation about the aspects which were weighing with it (not specifically pleaded or argued) requiring such extreme order and departure from the consistent directions given by this Court amongst others vide orders.. passed during the pandemic period taking note of the prevailing situation. This Court in fact had reiterated the regime delineated by the National Green Tribunal in respect of manufacture and sale of fire crackers", the Court observed.

Supreme Court vacation Bench comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and Ajay Rastogi further opined that that Supreme Court vide its order dated October 29, 2021 had clarified that there is no complete ban on firecrackers.

"For the time being, we only restate the position stated in the orders passed by this Court as referred to above, which shall be fully adhered to by the Authorities concerned in its letter and spirit. Additionally, the State of West Bengal may explore the possibility of ensuring prevention of import of banned fire crackers or related items within the State of West Bengal at the entry point itself. That mechanism can be strengthened, if need be. Further, the State shall ensure strict supervision and verification at other places including where the trading of fire crackers occur as well as its use", the Bench had directed further.

A Division Bench comprising Justices Sabyasachi Bhattacharya and Aniruddha Roy of the Calcutta High Court had ordered a a complete ban on the usage and sale of all kinds of firecrackers including green crackers throughout the State of West Bengal during the upcoming festivities.

"The State should ensure that there is no use or display or bursting of firecrackers of any type at all during the oncoming Kali Puja, Diwali celebration as well as the following Chatt Puja, Jagadhatri Puja, Guru Nanak's Birthday and/or Christmas/New Year's Eve this year. For such purpose, only wax or oil-based diyas might be used", the High Court had ruled.

The High Court had further observed that there is no existing mechanism in place to ascertain whether only "green crackers" as permitted by the Supreme Court are being used and hence had proceeded to ban the use of such green crackers as well.

Supreme Court Orders On Stubble Burning And Air Pollution

Nov 2019: Stop Stubble Burning, Construction & Demolition Activities In Delhi-NCR' : Supreme Court Issues Slew Of Directions To Curb Air Pollution

Taking serious note of the air pollution which had engulfed the Delhi-NCR area, the Supreme Court on November 6, 2019 had passed a slew of directions. The bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta had expressed displeasure at the government bodies neglecting the earlier directions of the Court in regards to stubble burning. The matter had been taken up in the wake of Environment Pollution Control Authority declaring a public health emergency in Delhi-NCR in view of the severely deteriorated air quality.

"Let the State Governments of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and officials also explain that why they should not be asked to pay the compensation for tortious liability as they have acquiesced and due to their failure in preventing stubble burning which is in utter violation of the Public Trust doctrine, why they should not be held liable to compensate, and also the incumbents who are burning the stubble in spite of clear restrictions imposed by this Court and statutory prohibition", the had Court ordered.

Time has come when we have to fix the accountability for this kind of situation which has arisen and is destroying right to life itself in gross violation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India, the Bench had further stated. Accordingly, the following directions were issued,

• Chief Secretaries of Punjab, UP and Haryana had been summoned on November 6, 2021 to brief the Court on measures to curb crop stubble burning.

• Directs Collectors and police officials to ensure that no further crop stubble burning takes place. Chief Secretaries, Collectors, Commissioners, Gram Pradhans and local administration will be held responsible if stubble burning takes place.

• Sarpanch of each and every panchayat and SHO of the concerned area to prepare inventory of incumbents who have burnt stubble in the area.

• Delhi government had been directed to take suggestions from experts and work with other bodies to tackle problem of garbage. EPCA to assist in preventing entry of diesel vehicles in Delhi.

• Ban on construction and demolition activities in Delhi and NCR. Violaters would be penalized with ₹1 lakh.

• Ban on coal based industries. Will be penalized if not followed.

• Municipal bodies directed to prevent open dumping of garbage.

• Bans on use of diesel generators in Delhi NCR until further orders.

• State governments should form a high level committee to deal with the crisis.

• Pollution Control Boards of Delhi and States of UP, Punjab and Haryana to put a halt on polluting industries working against norms.

Following this order, the same Bench on November 6, 2019 had directed the governments of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab to grant financial assistance of Rs 100 per quintal within seven days to small and marginal farmers for handling crop residue of non-basmati rice to ensure that they do not burn stubble to clean their fields. Machines are to be provided by States to these farmers for hiring, and the States are directed to provide operational costs to small and marginal farmers for hiring to handle crop stubble, the Court had ordered.

"To punish farmers is not the ultimate solution; provide them with the basic facilities and amenities", the Bench had further remarked.

The Central Government had also been directed to prepare a scheme to protect the interests of small and marginal farmers within 3 months which will be made applicable throughout the country.

Jan 2020: Supreme Court Issues Slew Of Directions To Curb Air Pollution In Delhi

The Supreme Court in January 2020 had passed a host of directions to address the protracted problem of air pollution in Delhi. The bench of Justice Arun Misha and Justice Deepak Gupta has passed several directions, dealing right from the problem of stubble burning to vehicular emissions and construction dust.

Stubble Burning

The Central Government and the State Governments of Punjab, Haryana and UP had been directed to prepare a comprehensive plan to prevent stubble burning. In this regard, they had been asked to finally decide to incentive and disincentive of Rs.100/- per quintal and the in-situ farming. They had also been directed to prepare a Crop Residuary Management, vis-à-vis its use inter alia as fertilizer, cattle food and bio fuel.

Smog

The Court had also asked the Delhi Government to complete the installation of the proposed Smog Tower at Connaught Place within three months. Further, directions had been issued for installation of a similar tower at Anand Vihar. To this end, the government had been asked to provide space of 30 x 30 meters for installation of an experimental tower within seven days.

Furthermore, the Court had also ordered use of "anti-smog guns" in Delhi and NCR region at Large construction sites, road construction stretches, particularly during earthwork and compacting, mining activities, large parking sites on unpaved areas and during large public gatherings and during demolition activities. The Court has also mandated the use of anti-smog guns in Delhi-NCR in the projects that require environmental clearance from the State/Central level, on sites having built-up area of more than 20,000 sq. mts. including excavation, material handling and other dust generating activities.

Sep 2020: SC Directs Completion Of Smog Towers Construction In 10 Months To Curb Delhi Air Pollution

The Supreme Court in September 2020 had granted ten months for the completion of the construction of smog towers in Delhi for the purpose of curbing air pollution. This was after the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change and the Department of Environment & Forests, Government of NCT of Delhi had submitted before a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra that the work will be completed within 10 months.

While taking the undertaking on record, the bench had warned "Any violation on any ground whatsoever shall be treated as contempt of the order passed by this Court as there is already huge unjustified delay in making the compliance of the order".

Accordingly, the Bench also comprising Justices B R Gavai and Krishna Murari recorded in its order, "However, since steps are being taken and undertakings have been furnished, we have not proceeded for violation of the order passed by this Court, only on the basis of the action taken and undertakings furnished to complete the project. Let the project be positively completed within 10 months."

In a recent development, back in August 2021, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had inaugurated India's first smog tower in Delhi Connaught Place that is slated to purify 1000 cubic metres of air per second within a radius of around 1 km. The Chief Minister had stated that if the pilot project is successful, more such smog towers would be installed in the national capital.

October 2020: On Centre's Request, Supreme Court Keeps In Abeyance Order Appointing Justice M B Lokur Panel To Monitor Stubble Burning In UP And Punjab & Haryana

The Supreme Court on October 26, 2020 kept in abeyance the order passed by it on October 16 to appoint Justice (Retired) Madan B Lokur, former Supreme Court judge, as a one-man panel to coordinate and monitor the steps taken to tackle the problem of stubble-burning. A Bench headed by former CJI SA Bobde, had passed the order on a request made by the Solicitor General of India (SG) Mr. Tushar Mehta.

The Solicitor General had submitted that the Centre was working towards implementing a comprehensive legislation to set up a permanent body to address the problem of stubble burning. Accordingly, he urged the Bench to keep in abeyance the October 16 order appointing Justice Madan B Lokur.

During the course of the submissions, senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the PIL petitioner Aditya Dubey had objected to the Solicitor General's submission.

"I don't understand the interest of Union of India in getting the order suspended. Ultimately it is for the benefit of the people of Delhi", Vikas Singh had submitted.

Consequently, the former CJI had shot down the objections of Vikas Singh by saying, "We think our own measure should be held in abeyance. What is your problem?. You are after all a PIL petitioner".

Oct 2020: Centre Introduces Ordinance To Set Up Permanent Commission To Tackle Air Pollution In Delhi-NCR

The President of India on October 28 signed an Ordinance introduced by the Central Government to set up a permanent commission to tackle air pollution in Delhi-National Capital Region and adjoining areas.

The Ordinance titled "Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance 2020" had been introduced two days after the Centre informed the Supreme Court of such a legislative exercise.

As mentioned previously, SG Tushar Mehta had requested a Bench headed by former CJI SA Bobde to keep in abeyance its earlier order appointing retired SC judge Justice M B Lokur as the head of a committee to monitor the steps to tackle stubble-burning.

The ordinance stipulates an eighteen-member commission called the "Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas" to be set up which will be headed by a Chairperson appointed by the central government. A person who is or has been a Secretary to the Government of India or Chief Secretary to a State Government will be Chairperson.

The commission which will be headquartered at Delhi and will comprise representatives from the States of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Furthermore, the violation of the orders of the Commission are punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend upto five years or fine which may extend up to Rupees One Crore or both.

The appeals from the orders of the Commission will go to the National Green Tribunal and jurisdiction of civil courts over it has been barred. Notably, the commission will supersede all the other bodies and authorities formed through judicial orders or otherwise on the aspect of air quality management and this commission will have exclusive jurisdiction in this domain.

In case of any conflict between orders and directions passed by this commission and by State governments, the Commission's orders will prevail, the ordinance further stipulates.

April 2021: Centre Was Slated To Place Ordinance On Stubble Burning Before Supreme Court Next Week

Supreme Court on April 8, 2021 had stated that it would consider next week, Centre's Ordinance framed to deal with the problem of stubble burning. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had assured the Court that the Ordinance, with modifications approved by the Cabinet would be placed before the Court next week.

A three-judge Bench of CJI NV Ramana, Justice Bopanna and Justice Ramasubramanian was adjudicating upon a PIL filed in 2020 seeking directions to govt of Punjab and Haryana to ensure complete ban on stubble burnings in their respective states & providing stubble burning machines to small and marginal farmers.

However, till date no further hearings have taken place in this matter.

The said Ordinance was passed as an Act by the Parliament in August 2021 during the monsoon session.

Also Read :  Delhi Air Pollution: Judicial Interventions In Abating Vehicular Emissions

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