The Supreme Court on Wednesday expressed great displeasure upon learning that the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT Bombay) had backed out from completing the Smog Tower project which would help Delhi fight its pollution crisis.
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 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.
While hearing a clutch of matters on issues involving environment protection, the Bench comprising of Justices Mishra, Vineet Saran and MR Shah was informed by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that a finalized plan regarding these smog towers would be placed before the Court in 2 weeks' time.
As the hearing proceeded, it was further informed that IIT Bombay had backed out from going ahead with the project, and the Government was now in talks with IIT Delhi and National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI).
Upon being asked why it would take 2 weeks for a concrete plan to be devised, the Solicitor General stated that "it is a new technology. We are in talks with IIT Delhi and NEERI after IIT Bombay could not do the project." He added that a letter to this effect had been received from IIT Bombay.
Taking strong exception to this, Justice Mishra stated that the Court would take strict action and expressed an inclination to initiate contempt proceedings against the institute.
"This is nonsense what IIT is saying. How can IIT get out? We will take strict action against them! How can IIT back out like this? Call the IIT fellow. This is utter nonsense what IIT is doing. This is contempt", remarked an annoyed Justice Mishra.
He sought for representatives of IIT Bombay to be called before them immediately to question them about the letter.
"They said they would do the job. How can they back out after 6 months? We will punish them. Tell them we will issue contempt", continued Justice Mishra.
SG Mehta expressed his inability to reach out to anyone from IIT Bombay immediately, and requested the Bench to allow an official to come before Court tomorrow. Mehta also requested time to seek instructions in the matter. Additionally, responding to the Court's inclination to draw contempt proceedings against IIT, the SG pointed out that the institute was not a party to the case.
"Why are you saving IIT? Why are you saving the secretary? They made a representation before us. They gave us assurance that they were doing the work. Now they back out. Is this not contempt?", replied Justice Mishra.
The Bench went on to state that the Solicitor himself should have responded to the letter sent by IIT. "You may not be serious about this issue, but we are", added Justice Mishra.
Assuring the Bench that the Government was serious about the issue, Mehta urged the matter to be taken up tomorrow. Based on this request, the Bench will now take up this matter again tomorrow, July 30, when IIT Bombay must appear before Court and explain why they backed out from doing the project.
Noting that "these are delay tactics and violation of court orders", Justice Mishra recorded in his Order that "we have to proceed against IIT and other authorities. We are not at all happy with the state of affairs."
The Centre, in December, had 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.