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Supreme Court: Don't Wait For Delhi Air Quality To Become Severe; Take Advance Measures Based On Scientific Model

Supreme Court Delhi Air Pollution

The Supreme Court on Wednesday observed that advance measures must be taken with respect to the Delhi's air quality crisis, on the basis of anticipation about wind pattern and scientific model based on the air pollution levels in different seasons, instead of waiting for taking emergency steps after the air quality has become severe. 

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.

The bench said that "The Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas", a statutory body created last year to deal with the air pollution crisis in Delhi-NCR, must take advance measures in anticipation based on scientific data and statistical models. 

The Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta informed that the Air Quality Index of Delhi today morning was 290, which is an improvement from the critical figure of 403 of last week. The Delhi's air quality situation is slightly improving, and in view of this, the ban on construction activities has been lifted with effect from November 22, the Solicitor General of India informed the Supreme Court on Wednesday. The SG was apprising the bench about the decisions taken by the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas in its meeting held on November 21.

While the SG was reading out the other measures adopted by the Commission, Justice Chandrachud intervened to say "These are all ad-hoc measures. The commission has to do a scientific study by having statistical models. You have the wind pattern for next 7 days. You have to take measures consistent with the wind direction. What are the steps you need to take, and what will be impact of those steps for the next 7 days? Somebody has to conduct that study. It must be science based".

Justice Chandrachud pointed out that the Commission says that the emergency measures will be taken when the weather situation becomes severe. Instead of that, the Commission must anticipate the weather situation and take appropriate measures in advance. 

"When the weather becomes severe then we take measures. These measures have to be taken in anticipation. You need to anticipate that weather is going to be severe with this wind pattern, these measures need to be taken in anticipation. That can happen through a statistical model for Delhi", 

Justice Chandrachud observed. 

The Solicitor General agreed to this suggestion. "I bow down. We should not wait for things to become severe". 

"This is the national capital. Look at the signal we are sending to the world. You can stop these activities in anticipation itself so the grade does not become severe. You need to have a model for different seasons of Delhi, as you don't have the same weather throughout. You've to have scientific analysis based on seasons of year, causes of pollution & expected wind direction. This action has to be taken in advance. Why should Delhiites suffer from air quality which is poor or severe?", 

Justice Chandrachud said. 

The Chief Justice of India observed that the improvement in the air quality was majorly due to the reduction in the wind speed over the last few days. 

"There were a lot of expectations that the Government will do something. But major reason for reduction is wind", the Chief Justice of India said. 

The CJI said that the bench is not disposing of the matter and will continue monitoring the situation. The CJI pointed out that the AQI is 318 at the moment.

"You're saying 290, we checked it is 318 at the moment. There's no substantial change except for maybe these two days. But it may again become serious.Take measures that we've directed. Monday morning we'll take up matter. If level comes down to 200 or something you can remove restrictions", the CJI told the Solicitor General. 

The CJI also observed that the States should states should use the "thousands of crores" lying with them collected a labour cess for the welfare of construction workers to provide them subsistence when the activities are banned.

The CJI also reiterated his earlier observations regarding apathy of bureaucracy in addressing the problem of stubble burning. 

"We are using common sense to discuss the issues. What is the central and state bureaucracy doing? Why can't they go to the fields, talk to farmers and scientists and devise a permanent solution to prevent stubble burning", the CJI said. 

At the beginning of the hearing, Senior Advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the petitioner Aditya Dubey, submitted that the fines are not being imposed on farmers for stubble burning in view of the impending elections.

"We are not on elections, but on pollution", the CJI then told Singh. The bench later said that it was not taking up the issue of stubble burning, as directions passed by the Supreme Court in 2019 in that regard are already in place. 

Ultimately, the bench adjourned the hearing to next Monday, November 29, asking the Centre, Delhi-NCR states and the Central Commission to take appropriate decisions to deal with the situation. The SG informed the bench that the Central Commission was constantly monitoring the situation.

On November 15th, the Supreme Court had observed in the order that the major contributors to pollution were industrial emission, vehicular transport, power plants and construction activities, and the contribution of stubble burning was comparatively less. The Court had then directed the Centre to take call for an emergency meeting and take emergency steps to address these issues. 

The bench had also expressed dissatisfaction with the outcome of the meeting held by "The Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas" following the directions of the Court.

Earlier on Saturday 13th November Supreme Court had expressed serious concerns at the worsening air quality of Delhi, and asked the Central Government to take immediate measures to address the situation after discussing with the concerned state governments. 

The Court had also commented that an attempt was made to project that stubble burning was the major cause, and lamented that "farmer bashing has become a fashion now". 

The Bench had also suggested that a 2 day lockdown may be imposed to handle the situation, if necessary. The Bench has been considering a PIL filed by Aditya Dubey seeking directions in relation to pollution caused in Delhi and adjoining areas due to stubble burning and other sources of pollution.

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