Three chief secretaries told to be in court tomorrow.
New Delhi: Attacking the government authorities for leaving people to die due to their failure to curb air pollution in Delhi-NCR, the Supreme Court on Monday directed the chief secretaries of neighbouring Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to be present in court on Wednesday to explain what steps they have taken to curb stubble burning in their states. Observing that people in Delhi-NCR were losing “precious years of their lives” and cannot be “left to die” due to the “atrocious” pollution situation which reflects a “shocking state of affairs”, the court said all officers and authorities right from the chief secretary to the gram sarpanch would be held accountable for even a single incident of stubble burning. The court also questioned Delhi’s AAP government about the logic behind the 12-day “odd-even” scheme, implemented in Delhi from Monday, and ordered it to produce data to prove that the road-rationing plan reduces pollution. The National Green Tribunal on Monday also took cognisance of the deteriorating air quality and asked officials of the Delhi government, the Central Pollution Control Board, Delhi Pollution Control Committee and the environment ministry to appear before it on Tuesday.
A two-member Supreme Court bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta ruled that those violating the ban on construction and demolition in the Delhi-NCR region will be fined `1 lakh, while the fine for burning garbage will be `5,000. It also directed all municipal bodies to prevent open dumping of garbage.
On the road-rationing scheme, the Supreme Court said: “Cars create less pollution. What are you (Delhi) getting from this odd-even scheme? Banning diesel vehicles we can understand, but what is the point of the odd-even scheme?” The court also sought data or records from the AAP government by Friday to prove that the odd-even scheme has reduced pollution in Delhi, as autos, taxis and two-wheelers continue to ply on the roads.
The bench also asked the Delhi government whether it really thinks people will start sharing their trips with others during the odd-even scheme. “The issue is that you are stopping one vehicle, but other vehicles will ply. You have to augment public transport,” the bench said, adding: “You do not have funds for the Metro. You are not contributing for this.” Justice Gupta said: “Three years back when I joined as a Supreme Court judge, it was said 3,000 buses will be added to public transport. Till now, only 300 odd buses have been added.”
The court pulled up the Centre and state governments over the toxic haze enveloping Delhi, saying the city was choking every year and this could not be allowed in a civilised country as the right to life was most important. “This can’t go on. The Delhi government and the Centre can’t just pass the buck to each other. People aren’t safe even inside their houses and rooms.”
“Why are crops still being burnt? This happens every year and the government doesn’t do anything. We will call all those responsible here and settle it now,” the court said, adding it would now monitor stubble burning. The bench was told by senior advocate Aparajita Singh, who is assisting the court as an amicus curiae, that as per the Centre’s affidavit crop burning has risen by seven per cent in Punjab and is down by 17 per cent in Haryana.
Describing the situation as grim, Justice Mishra, who is heading the bench, said: “It is worse than the Emergency. That Emergency was better than this emergency.” He added: “We are living in a country where we can’t control all this. People are dying and crying. The state machinery is not working, each one is passing the buck.”
Issuing a slew of directions, including a prohibition on the use of generators in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan till further orders, the court directed the Centre and the states to prepare a roadmap within three weeks to prevent a situation in future like that prevailing now in the region due to toxic air quality.
Politics over air pollution continued with environment minister Prakash Javadekar lashing out at the AAP government asking whether it was following the Central Pollution Control Board’s directives aimed at combating the severe air pollution in the national capital.
Responding to questions over rising air pollution in the Delhi-NCR region, he said his ministry had already held several meetings with the neighbouring states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan over stubble burning.
The minister said: “Pollution is genuine problem. When I became environment minister, I called a meeting of all five states regarding the issue. Seven to eight such meetings have already been held. Another one will happen soon... The Delhi government must check out the directions given by the CPCB regarding pollution and should say how much of that has been followed.”
Hitting back at the AAP government over deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia’s recent comment that 40,000 machines provided by the Centre to curb stubble burning cannot help 22 lakh farmers, Mr Javadekar said the Narendra Modi government had given `1,100 crores for this, but the Delhi government was busy spending on advertisements.
“The Delhi government is asking why have we given 40,000 machines to a population of 22 lakh farmers, I want to say that we have given `1,100 crores. Instead of spending Rs 1,500 crores on advertisements, the Delhi government should give this amount to farmers to tackle the issue of pollution,” Mr Javadekar told reporters.
AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra urged people to unite on the pollution issue in the NCR region and UP, saying clean air is “our right and responsibility”. She cited the example of London where in 1952 thousands of people had died due to pollution and people took to the streets and brought in a law for clean air. In a Hindi tweet with hashtag “LetsUniteAgainstPollution”, she said: “Why is there a need today to seriously think about the issue of pollution. The air is toxic in Delhi, Noida, Ghaziabad, Kanpur, Benares, Lucknow and many other cities. In this very air, our children go to school and our labourers and common people go to work.”
“In 1952 in London, when a dangerous smog took the lives of 12,000 people, the city was clogged and lakhs of people fell sick. After such a big disaster, a law for clean air was brought,” she said. “The way we do certain things to improve our lives, take life insurance and do workouts. We should make an attempt against pollution too as clean air is our right as also our responsibility.”