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Delhi Pollution : 'We Give You 24 Hours', Supreme Court To Create 'Task Force' If Air Quality Commission Doesn't Take Serious Measures

Srishti Ojha
2 Dec 2021 6:57 AM GMT
Delhi Pollution : We Give You 24 Hours, Supreme Court To Create Task Force If Air Quality Commission Doesnt Take Serious Measures
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On a day when the Delhi's Air Quality index continued to be in the 'severe' category, the Supreme Court expressed deep anguish at the pollution levels not coming down despite the claims made by the Centre, Delhi Government and the adjoining NCR staets of having taken several measures.The Court asked when that Commission for Air Quality Management was doing and expressed disappointment at the...

On a day when the Delhi's Air Quality index continued to be in the 'severe' category, the Supreme Court expressed deep anguish at the pollution levels not coming down despite the claims made by the Centre, Delhi Government and the adjoining NCR staets of having taken several measures.

The Court asked when that Commission for Air Quality Management was doing and expressed disappointment at the fact that even the sources of the pollution have not been identified properly.

Noting that several directions issued by the Commission are not being implemented at the ground level, a bench comprising Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justice DY Chandrachud and Surya Kant said that it might create a "task force" by itself to monitor the implementation of the directions. The Court noted that the Commission has not been given powers by the statute to enforce its directions.

Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta requested the bench for one more day's time to respond to the concerns expressed by the Court. The SG said that he will talk to the highest authority and to come out with additional measures to deal with the crisis.

"Mr Mehta, we expect a serious real action, if you can't do tomorrow we are going to do. We are giving you 24 hours", Chief Justice of India NV Ramana told the SG while winding up the proceedings today after nearly an hour long hearing.

"Where is the problem? Why is the pollution not coming down? We have been passing directions. You have been making  loud statements. The problem of stubble burning is also not there now. So why has it not come down?", the CJI asked during the hearing.

"Which are the major sources of pollution today according to the Commission?", Justice Chandrachud asked. The Solicitor General replied that industrial and vehicular emissions are the major sources.

"What is the Commission doing?In a situation of emergency, you've to work quickly and with creativity. What's point of 20-30 member committee? Another burden on state exchequer. We've to do something extraordinary otherwise it won't work. We can't infuse creativity in your bureaucracy", an exasperated CJI remarked.

"We think that nothing is happening as pollution level is increasing. We think that we are wasting our time", the CJI remarked at point during the hearing. "If courts, government everyone is doing so much, why is pollution increasing? Anyone will ask this. What's going wrong then", the CJI expressed.

The Solicitor General requested for one more day time to address the situation with additional measures. He assured the bench that there is no need for the Court to constitute a task force as the authorities were keenly monitoring the implementation. "There's a continuous & constant monitoring by statutory authorities & sites are closed when found to be non compliant. Please see, 7722 construction sites were visited", the SG said referring to the affidavit of the Union Government.

Stating that the "officers are working round the clock", the SG said that he can furnish the names and the composition of the inspection team before the bench.

Bench quizzes Delhi Government


During the hearing the bench also quizzed the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi, represented by Senior Advocate Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, regarding its compliance. Dr.Singhvi took the bench through the affidavit, which mentioned the actions being taken by the GNCTD to enforce the directions.

Dr.Singhvi said that concrete measures of prosecution have been launched against defaulting industries, and 24/7 power supply is ensured to prevent use of diesel geneartors.

"There have been inspection. 1578 vehicles have been impounded which were older that 10 & 15 years. Dust prevention was going on at central vista also yesterday", Dr.Singhvi said.

He also urged the bench to not create a task force as the authorities were inspection teams already constituted with members from Centre and State. He added that multiplicity of agencies might add to the confusion.

Why schools are open? SC asks Delhi

The bench also pulled up the Delhi Government for allowing the schools to reopen amid the pollution crisis." One thing you told was schools are closed. But schools are now open. Small children have to go in morning in fog. There's no respect. You say there is work from home option. So elders will stay at home and children will go to school?", the CJI asked.

Dr. Singhvi explained that the schools were reopened after the pollution levels came down. However, the option of online classes is still there. He said that closure of schools will add to the "learning loss" experienced by the students. However, he added that the Government is prepared to follow any directions which the Court might pass.

"Don't use our shoulder. You are Government so you have to take action. You are saying whoever wants to come come, you want to stay at home stay. If you give option, everyone will come, who wants to stay at home. We also have children, grandchildrenYou have to take a call. Don't tell us we have to take a call", the CJI told Dr.Singhvi.

Petitioner supports SC constituting task force

Senior Advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the petitioner, told the bench that there might be a need to even the AQI norms for Delhi, considering that it is a land-locked city. So the norms applicable for a coastal city like Mumbai can't be applied to Delhi, Singh suggested.

Singh stressed that there is a need to constitute a task force, and suggested that retired Supreme Court judge Justice Nariman could be asked to lead it.

"Today the level is 500 AQI and it is serious and that means someone is flouting this. All these directions like water sprinklers etc are working or not has to be seen like a proper flying squad", Singh said.

He also argued that the ban on construction has to be uniform and there cannot be exemption to activities like Central Vista.

The Court will consider the matter tomorrow at 10 AM.

Background

A bench comprising the Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Surya Kant was hearing a matter seeking emergency steps to control the worsening air quality situation in the national capital.

On last occasion, November 29th, the Supreme Court had sought the response of the Central Government to the allegation that construction works for the Central Vista Redevelopment Project was a major cause of air pollution.

The Bench had asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to respond to submissions made by Senior Advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the petitioner, that the Central Vista works were going on despite the ban imposed by the Supreme Court on construction activities in Delhi-NCR to reduce air pollution.

In pursuance of the direction, Union of India informed the Supreme Court through an affidavit that the Central Vista development project and the construction work for the new Parliament building are projects of national importance and such projects, subject to their compliance with the relevant norms were exempted from the construction ban imposed by the Commission for Air Quality Management in Delhi-NCR, as per its order passed on November 16.

The Supreme Court had also directed the Governments of National Capital Territory of Delhi, and the States of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab to file affidavits showing their compliance with the directions issued by the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas.

The States were forthwith asked to comply with the directions which remain to be complied with.

The bench was hearing a writ petition (Aditya Dubey(Minor) and others versus Union of India and others), filed through Advocate on Record Nikhil Jain, which seeks directions to reduce the air pollution in Delhi-NCR. The matter will be next considered on December 2.

On November 24, taking note of the air quality crisis in the national capital, the Supreme Court had re-imposed the ban on construction activities in Delhi-NCR until further orders. The Commission for Air Quality Management in Delhi-NCR had earlier decided to lift the ban with effect from November 22, taking note of the slight improvement in the air quality.

The Court however permitted non-polluting works related to construction such as carpentry, electrical work, plumbing and interior decoration to continue. 

The Court had also directed the States to use the funds which have been collected as labour cess for the welfare of construction workers to provide them subsistence for the period during which construction activities are prohibited and pay wages notified under the Minimum Wages Act for the respective categories of workers.

Taking up the case in November second week when the air quality in Delhi-NCR had plummeted to severe grade, the Court had asked the Central Government and NCR steps to take emergency measures.

The Bench had stated that the major causes of air pollution in Delhi are industries, power, vehicular traffic and construction, and not stubble burning as was sought to be projected.

Case Title: Aditya Dubey (Minor) & Anr vs Union of India & Ors

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