Infuriated over the worsening air pollution in Delhi and the National Capital Region due to stubble burning, the Supreme Court on Saturday asked the Centre to apprise it on Monday, November 15 on the decisions taken to address the emergency situation caused by the air pollution.
The bench of Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Surya Kant suggested to the Centre and the Delhi government that it may consider imposing a lockdown of two days in the capital in view of the pollution levels. It added farmers alone can’t be blamed for the rising pollution citing stubble burning. “The authorities must deal with other causes of pollution, including vehicular pollution, dust and industrial pollution,” the bench said.
Chief Justice Ramana asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta what effective mechanisms and steps have been taken by him (the Central government) in dealing with bad air and expressed explicitly to Mehta that for the sake of clarity, he was not concerned with state and Centre obligations.
Solicitor General Mehta laid down the detailed monitorable action plans based on following components of framework –
1. In situ residue management
2. Ex situ residue management
3. Prohibition of stubble/crop residue burning
4. Effective monitoring/enforcement
5. Plans/schemes to reduce generation of paddy straw
6. IEC activities for plan of action
Mehta argued that as per action plan submitted by State Governments, Bio-decomposer application has been planned by the governments of Uttar Pradesh in about 10 lakh acres, Haryana in about 1 lakh acres, Punjab in 7413 acres and in Delhi about 4000 acres of paddy farms.
The Apex Court then asked the Centre to call an emergency meeting of all the stakeholders, and fixed Monday for hearing the matter next. The Court asked Punjab and Haryana to stop stubble burning for at least two days to bring down pollution as SG Mehta said the situation may not improve till November 17.
Delhi government said the major contribution to Delhi’s severe pollution levels is because of stubble burning. The bench noted that the Delhi government has the habit of blaming farmers.
Instead of blaming the farmers, all states and the Centre should come together to address the pollution issue, the Apex Court said.
The Court said Delhi government has opened schools and little children are being exposed to severe air pollution. “Have you taken any step to close schools or address the situation? What happened to the smog towers you were to put up? Are they working,” the SC asked.
Arguments exchanged among bench and Centre/state counsels
Rahul Mehra, Standing Counsel (NCT of Delhi): “Affidavit has come in morning, it is in process.”
SG Tushar Mehta: “Nikhil Jain, (Counsel for Petitioner), you have done the right thing, you have moved the petition. My detailed reply is on record.”
CJI Ramana: “We have to see how bad the situation is. What steps you have taken?”
SG Mehta: “I am not taking in adversarial manner. Everybody is fighting with statutory commissions.”
CJI Ramana: “We allow you to screen share the document, Mr. Mehta. We need short-term plan to deal with this.”
SG Mehta: “We are not suggesting that farmers are only responsible for it.”
CJI: “30-40 percent of stubble burning from Punjab is coming.”
J. Chandrachud: “The problem is of incentivization. Does machinery have any capital subsidy on it?”
J. Suryakant: “We all belong to farmers’ family, so we know about everything.”
J. Chandrachud: “What is capital cost and how much subsidy is given? Give some samples of four districts.”
CJI: “Go through the notes and we will discuss it later.”
SG Mehta: “Specific framework state has provided on which we are working. and a broad framework provided by us also.”
J. Chandrachud: “What will be capital costs for machine you require, Mr. Mehta.”
SG Mehta: “After commission established, it is an ongoing process.”
J. Chandrachud: “At what percentage are you ready to work on this Pusa bio-decomposer, Mr. Mehta. Where is the economic arrangement, Mr Mehta? Commissioner has propounded policies, it’s about how will you manage the machinery.”
SG Mehta: “I will file affidavit with regard to this.”
[J. Suryakant to SG: “What effective steps have you taken to deal with the issue in such exigencies.”? CJI is asking you the same thing, Mr. Mehta.”
SG Mehta: The Pusa bio-decomposer application carried out in 6,65,000 acres in UP including 91,500 acres in NCR districts of UP in 1357 acres in Delhi and 34,000 acres in Haryana.
CJI: “I said something, you took it as an objection, Mr Mehta.”
SG Mehta: “No, My Lord.”
J. Chandrachud: “Schools have been opened, exposing little children in this weather, Mr. Mehta.”
CJI read out the note where AQI level gone down and has become very poor.
CJI: “You have to look beyond politics, Mr Mehta. First control pollution of Delhi, Mr. Mehta. Then will talk about other states. What is Government of India’s report? What’s their prediction, Mr Mehta?”
SG Mehta: “Delhi air is static. Till 18th, we have to be very cautious. That’s why we have called meeting today.”
CJI: “Politics have no role here. Adjourned to Monday. We do not want any apologies, Mehta. We only want end result.”
Rahul Mehra: “I want to highlight one issue – there are 3 figures i am placing – after a month and half – AQI reached from 84 to 441.”
Mehra: “It is 20 days cycle. Pusa research institute scientists are working on it.”
J. Suryakant: “It is an emergency situation, dust control, banning of vehicles, something like that. Take stringent action soon, Mr Mehra.”
J. Chandrachud: “Have you responded to the situation where small kids health are affecting specially when schools have just opened, Mr Mehra? It is in the jurisdiction of Delhi Government and not Central government.”
The Supreme Court had last year asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to come up with concrete steps to prevent stubble burning in the states. SG Tushar Mehta has agreed to file an affidavit in this regard. A three-judge bench headed by former Chief Justice S. A. Bobde, Justice A. S. Bopanna and Justice V. Ramasubramanian had heard the petition by Aditya Dubey (Minor), a Class 12 student, seeking direction to the Punjab and Haryana governments to ban stubble burning, which usually takes place between September and December every year, against the backdrop of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
The Supreme Court on the previous occasion had asked the Centre to apprise it about the steps taken so far by the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) in the National Capital Region and adjoining areas to tackle air pollution.
The Court had put in abeyance its order dated October 16, 2020 appointing Justice Madan B. Lokur to monitor/prevent stubble burning in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Punjab, in view of the Centre’s proposal of extensive legislation on the issue.