The Supreme Court on November 25 asked the Governments of NCT of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to explain within six weeks as to why they should not be made liable to pay compensation to persons affected by bad air quality.
A bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta observed that it was the bounden duty of the States to provide basic civic amenities, clean air and drinking water to citizens.
The Court observed that "self-created bankruptcy" cannot come in the discharge of statutory duties by the governments.
"we find that in spite of various orders passed by this Court, we are not able to improve the situation of air quality which we can see at least in Delhi and NCR with certainty. Time has come to require the State Governments to explain why they should not be asked to compensate the persons who are being affected by bad air quality", observed the Court in the order.
The bench referred to reports and the scientific data which indicated that large section of people are suffering from the dreaded diseases due to such air pollution such as Cancer, Asthma and various other diseases.
A visibly agitated bench on Monday came down heavily on the Chief Secretaries of the Governments of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh over the issue of unabated air pollution in Delhi-NCR.
On November 15, the Court had ordered the personal presence of the Chief Secretaries on Monday.
The bench observed that the Governments have not effectively tackled the issue of stubble burning. The bench referred to satellite images to state stubble burning has in fact gone up in the states, despite the ban imposed by SC.
"People are laughing at our country that we can't even control stubble burning. Blame game is serving the Delhites. You people will play the blame game, not taking it seriously", Justice Mishra orally remarked during hearing.
The UP Chief Secretary informed the Court that 926 FIRs have been filed till date against farmers for stubble burning. The other Chief Secretaries submitted that they have been taking earnest efforts; but a fast solution is not forthcoming as it involves a behavioural change on the part of farmers.
The bench was not convinced with the explanations offered by the Secretaries. The Court warned that heavy fines will be imposed on all officers, from top to bottom.
It was stated by the Chief Secretary to the State of Punjab that there are few machines by which stubble can be collected called the bailors but those machines are concentrated in few districts only. He stated that such bailors can be provided in different districts at block levels so that small farmers can use these machines for removal of the stubble.
In this backdrop, the bench ordered the Haryana and Uttar Pradesh also to do the needful in this regard.
The Court also took suo moto cognizance of the issue of unsafe drinking water in Delhi.
The Governments of NCT of Delhi and Centre were urged to keep their "differences aside" and come up with a comprehensive plan in 10 days to install smog purifying towers across the capital.
"The problem of governance, if any, cannot come in the way to deal with such matters. It is expected from the Government machineries not to enter into the rival claims, but to sit down together, work it out how to improve the air quality and whether potable water is being supplied or not, and how to improve the water management", observed the bench.
The Court asked the Delhi Government and Central Pollution Control Board to submit a report within 10 days about the effect created by "Anti-Smog Guns", which are cannons that spray automized water 50 metres into the air to bring down suspended pollutants.
The apex court also issued notices to all states seeking various details, including on air quality index (AQI), managing air quality and disposing of garbage.
It took serious note of water pollution and asked the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and other concerned states and their pollution control boards to place before it data on tackling the issue of pollution, sewage and garbage disposal in rivers, including Ganga and Yamuna
Taking note of the deterioration of air quality in Delhi-NCR, the Supreme Court had passed a slew of directions on November 4 and 6. To stop the practice of stubble burning by farmers in the neighbouring states, the Court directed the governments of Haryana, Punjab, UP and Delhi 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.
The Court also banned construction and demolition activities in Delhi-NCR.