The Supreme Court on Monday (November 15,2021 ) said the “cat is out of the bag” to prove that urban factors such as construction activities, industry, vehicular exhaust and road dust are actually the major causes of pollution in the Capital and not farmers’ stubble burning.
A special Bench led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana gleaned over the fact from the affidavits filed by the Centre and Delhi Government. The Centre, for one, said farm fires in neighbouring Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh contributed only 10% to the pollution.
In the previous hearing, the Court had questioned the narrow focus of the Centre and the Delhi Government on farmers.
“You [Centre] say 76% of the pollution is caused by industry, dust, vehicles and construction and not due to stubble burning... So the cat is out of the bag... You [Delhi] are saying farm fires contribute only 4%... So you are now trying to target pollution that is insignificant?,” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, on the Bench, asked both Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and Senior Advocate Rahul Mehra, appearing for the Centre and Delhi, respectively.
“Are you agreeing in principle that farm fires are not the major cause? So all that hue and cry had no scientific or actual basis?,” Justice Surya Kant further asked.
Chief Justice Ramana saidthat the court had been insisting that stubble burning was not the major cause. “Pollution is caused by city-related issues... You first take care of them and then we will come to stubble burning,” the CJI told the Centre.
The Court was shocked to realise that Delhi had only 69 mechanised road sweepers to cover the entire streets of the Capital.
Mr. Mehra was quick to assure “commitment at the top”. He said the municipal corporations in Delhi were autonomous bodies and suggested the court should ask the Mayors to file “specific” affidavits.
“This is like the story told by grandma... Everyone passing the buck,” Chief Justice Ramana scoffed.
Justice Kant lashed out at the Delhi Government for coming up with “lame excuses”.
Justice Kant said if this went on, the Court would be constrained to order an audit inquiry into the money the Delhi Government spent on “popularity slogans” seen across the Capital.
“How will you augment the number of machines in the next 24 hours,” Justice Chandrachud asked.
“Municipal corporations say they don’t even have the money to pay their staff,” Justice Kant said.
Mr. Mehra, after conferring with the officials, said “MCD can say how many they require, the Government will release the funds. We are committed... We will do at a war-footing”.
“Tall words...” the CJI reacted at one point.
The Delhi counsel persisted that the Government had been doing everything the Union of India had asked to quell the pollution.
“Everything that needs to be done further, will be done in 24 to 48 hours,” Mr. Mehra said.
“We appreciate whatever steps you have taken... We are not saying you have not cooperated... You take steps... Do it... People will appreciate if you do,” Chief Justice Ramana told the Delhi Government.
During the hearing, the Court found that the Centre’s Committee under the Air Quality Management in NCT and in Adjoining Areas Act had not, over the weekend, “precisely” chalked out a plan to immediately and drastically control pollution caused by construction, vehicles, power plants and industry.
In fact, Mr. Mehta said “drastic steps” like odd-even vehicles’ scheme, ban of entry and plying of trucks in the Capital, complete lockdown had been “deferred” for now.
“The severest step would be lockdown,” Mr. Mehta said.
But Delhi said it was willing to go for a lockdown provided it was “cohesive arrangement” involving the National Capital Regions.
“We are wanting to have a lockdown if it is also in NCR...” Mr. Mehra submitted for Delhi.
The Court directed the Centre to call an urgent meeting in 24 hours with Punjab, Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to craft urgent and effective anti-pollution measures and their implementation.
Though noting that stubble burning was not broadly a significant contributor to pollution except in October and November, the court asked Punjab, Haryana to “persuade” farmers not to resort to stubble burning for a week.
“You file documents after documents... You don’t focus on the issue... You have to come up with a concrete proposal,” Chief Justice Ramana addressed the Punjab counsel.
The Court asked the Centre, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to introduce work from home for now.
The Court scheduled the next hearing for November 17, 2021.