The Supreme Court on Wednesday expressed concern regarding pollution and its far-reaching implications in Delhi NCR and other states of the country. A bench headed by Justice AK Sikri began the hearing by taking up the petitions on pollution. Intially, Justice Sikri heard the counsels from Punjab and Haryana regarding the crop burning issues. The Court expressed its discontent with the arguments advanced by the counsels regarding actions to curb air pollution, especially the rampant issue of stubble burning in the states.
Later, the Court turned to the issues regarding the introduction of green crackers in the market before Diwali 2019. Vijay Panjwani, counsel for the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), informed the Court that concerned government agencies are working in close association to resolve issues regarding green crackers. Justice Sikri was taken aback to learn that despite the four-month ban on the sale of crackers, especially the most polluting ones, the proposed alternative, green crackers are yet to be approved by the government agencies.
A curious Justice Sikri remarked in Court, ”Let us know where are the green crackers?”
After not getting any convincing answers from various counsels present in court, Justice Sikri again inquired what is happening with the green crackers. He also pulled up the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) for delay in handing over the formulae of green crackers to cracker manufacturers despite an assurance given way back in August 2018.
“We had ordered a ban on polluting crackers in the belief that some alternate formulation is in place,” said Justice Sikri. The counsel for Sivakasi cracker manufacturers submitted that nearly 1,000 factories have been closed after the ban, and more than 4 lakh workers have lost their employment.
Justice Sikri seemed disappointed by the absence of a clear strategy to balance the issues regarding pollution and the livelihood of the community involved in its manufacturing. “Some way has to be found out, if you delay like this then we are nowhere ….Some balancing act to protect livelihood of workers and also ensure no pollution on account of cracker bursting,” he said.
A CPCB official present in the courtroom, on condition of anonymity, said that we have proposed a sustainable model to reduce pollution by equipping the manufacturers with necessary support to change cracker composition, as per the mandate of green crackers guidelines. “We do not support a ban on fire crackers instead we prefer a balancing act to change the cracker composition and also livelihood of people involved in its manufacturing,” said the official.
On the issue of pollution created by stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana, the Court heard the contentions of Gopal Shankar Narayan, a petitioner who had moved the Supreme Court on behalf of infants, Aarav Bhandari and Zoya Rao Bhasin, against air pollution. Gopal cited the example of California City Council’s efforts to combat air pollution. “Crop burning is still practiced in California, but there is a window or time period to burn the crop in synchronization with the movement of the wind in a particular direction. There is a board in California (California Air Resources Board) to manage these time frames”, said Gopal. Secondly, he pointed out that a huge sum of money, in the name of environmental cess, is lying unused with the government. “Nearly Rs 70,000 crore has been collected from the people of the country. This money could be used to subsidize Happy Seeder, a machine which is used for sowing wheat without any burning of rice residue. The government should look into this aspect,” said Gopal closing his arguments. Justice Sikri directed the Punjab and Haryana government counsels to look into the proposals and work together in this fight against pollution.
–India legal Bureau