‘Bureaucracy has developed a ‘sort of inertia’ of not taking decisions which are left to the courts,’ said the apex court
New Delhi: The Supreme Court Wednesday directed the Centre and states to ensure implementation of the decisions taken in a meeting to curb air pollution, observing that it cannot get into the nitty-gritty and the bureaucracy has developed a “sort of inertia” of not taking decisions which are left to the courts.
The Commission for Air Quality Management in the NCR and Adjoining Areas, which held the meeting at the direction of the apex court on Tuesday with the Centre, Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan, came out with a slew of emergency steps to deal with industrial pollution, thermal plants, vehicular emissions, dust control, diesel generators as well as encouraging work from home.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana, which heard the case for over two hours, said, Enough is enough. We cannot get into all the nitty-gritty of the issue. You please take the steps to deal with the emergency situation.
Referring to the affidavits of the Centre and others, the bench, also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant, said that at one place they could have said the actions they proposed to take to deal with the situation.
The CJI then said: “Over a period of time what I am observing, as a judge and an Advocate General, is that the bureaucracy, completely, I think has developed some sort of inertia. They don’t want to take a decision. How to stop a car, seize a vehicle, how to stop a fire has to be done by this court. Everything we have to do. This is an attitude developed by the Executive.”
“It is apathy and just apathy,” he said while fixing the case for further hearing on November 24.
The bench, which did not pass any directions, asked the Centre and the states to implement the measures, decided in the meeting, to curb the pollution.
“People sitting in five and seven-star hotels here keep blaming farmers, that 4-5 per cent is attributed to them. After agrarian laws, what happened to their land holdings? With such small landholdings, can they afford these machines? If you actually have any scientific alternative, propose it to them, they will adopt them,” it said.
It has been acknowledged that vehicular pollution is the major source of pollution and still “gas guzzlers and hi-fi cars” are plying on Delhi roads and nothing is being done, the bench said.
“All of you in your affidavits are acknowledging, for example, that transportation is a pollution source. We know that all gas guzzlers, tractors, hi-fi cars are plying in Delhi on every route. You are saying you will encourage people to stop it. Now how will you do this and who will encourage and who will accept” it said.
At the outset, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, alleged that he has been targeted in TV debates with nasty utterances about his submissions on contribution of stubble burning to the air pollution in Delhi-NCR and they claimed that he had misled the court.
“I watched some irresponsible and nasty utterances on TV media against me that I misled the court on the question of stubble burning by showing that its contribution is only 4 to 7 per cent. Let me clarify,” he said.
The top court, however, said: “We were not misled at all. You said 10 per cent but it was pointed out in the affidavit that it was 30 to 40 per cent. This type of criticism is bound to happen when we are holding public offices. We are clear, our conscience is clear, forget about all this. These kinds of criticisms keep happening. Our conscience is clear and we work for the betterment of society.”
Mehta then listed the steps proposed in the meeting like banning entry of all trucks in the national capital except vehicles carrying essential goods, shutting of schools and 50 per cent attendance in offices of GNCTD to reduce air pollution in Delhi-NCR.
All industries in NCR having gas connectivity shall be run only on a gas fuel failing which industries concerned shall be closed, he said, adding, out of seven thermal plants located within 300 km radius of Delhi 5 power plants shall be allowed to schedule their operations and the rest shall remain inoperative at least till November 30.
Plying of diesel and petrol vehicles which are more than 10 and 15 years respectively in NCR is a serious matter and the authority shall ensure that they are not found plying on road, Mehta said.
Directions have been issued to stop construction and demolition activities in the NCR, the use of diesel generators shall be banned, he said.
The top court was hearing the plea filed by environmental activist Aditya Dubey and law student Aman Banka, who sought directions to provide stubble-removing machines to small and marginal farmers for free.
During the hearing, the bench took note of debates on electronic media and said that TV news channels are causing more pollution than anybody with statements made in the court being taken out of context.
“Debates on TV are creating more pollution than anybody. They don’t understand what is happening and what is the issue. Statements are taken out of context. Everyone has their own agenda. We can’t help and we can’t control. We are focussing on working out the solution,” it said.
The oral remarks came in response to the submission of senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the Delhi government, that stubble burning was one of the contributors of the air pollution which needs to be addressed and referred to the Centre’s figures on the issue.
Mehta told the apex court that one of the factors increasing the impact of stubble burning is the direction of wind in NCR. He said post Diwali there has been an increase in stubble burning instances.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the petitioners, said “We are not in politics but I am here for Delhi” and stated that the SG had mentioned the contribution of stubble burning was 10 per cent.
The top court remarked, “Don’t irritate us Mr Singh. Unnecessary, both of you are diverting the issues…this is a matter of common sense… And these instances increase in these two months.”
Mehta said the issue of work from home for central government officers was also considered but the number of vehicles used by them is not huge and the government has issued an advisory for pooling and sharing of vehicles.
The bench said it was informed on the last hearing that 69 road sweeping machines have been purchased and asked what steps have been taken to buy new machines.
Singhvi said 15 have been ordered and the Delhi government has written to corporations to know if they need more. He said if they say they want more, the AAP government will approve it.
The bench, however, said, “We are not impressed or inclined to go into these figures. Enough is enough. We can’t go into all this, how many machines are required, etc.”
Singhvi said a source based break up of pollution factors is yet to be done and a study by IIT Kanpur can be relied on in this case. He told the bench about Pusa bio-decomposer solution that is expected to help decompose paddy stubble.
Anti smog guns have been installed and an anti dust campaign organised by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee, he said.
The apex court also asked Haryana about the steps taken to control air pollution.
The counsel for Haryana told the apex court that chief secretary and district magistrates are taking stock of the situation to ensure that no stubble burning takes place in these two weeks.
The bench asked, “What about work from home? The deputy commissioner of Gurugram, Faridabad, Sonepat and Jhajjar were ordered to follow work from home. What has happened.”
The counsel said that they have been told to do so.
The apex court took exception and said, “Told to do means you’ve left it at their discretion. What have you done?
The lawyer appearing for the Punjab government told the bench that the state does not fall under Delhi-NCR region. He submitted that the officers visited 2,570 villages, 417 burning events were found and subsequently fires were extinguished.
Mehta asked the apex court to wait till November 21 before passing harsh measures since the wind flow could improve as per the meteorological department.
“Meteorological scientists were there in the emergency meeting and as per them, the wind flow will be there after November 21. Would this court not consider waiting till November 21 before implementing harsher measures?
“Basically by November 21, nature will come to your rescue,” the bench said.
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