SC asks Centre, states to continue with measures to curb pollution

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Apex court says action needed in anticipation

New Delhi, Nov 24 (PTI): The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Centre and the NCR states to continue with their measures to curb air pollution and called for advance preventive steps with the help of IMD which has “sophisticated mechanism and tools” to deal with the situation before it becomes severe.

“Why should Delhiites suffer this severe and very poor air quality?” the apex court said. “This is the national capital. Look at the signal we are sending to the world. You can stop these (pollution causing) activities in anticipation itself…”

Graded response to deal with the spike in air pollution should be taken before the situation becomes severe, the top court said, adding that it will not close the matter and continue to hear it even if pollution comes down by “virtue of God’s act” or restrictions.

A special bench headed by chief justice N V Ramana, which discussed the issue of stubble burning and the problems faced by farmers with the lawyers, once again came down on bureaucrats for their alleged inaction in dealing with this aspect.

“Mr (Tushar) Mehta (solicitor general) as a government lawyer or lawyers and judges we are using our common sense and discussing this issue and what the bureaucracy has been doing all these years and can’t they go and meet the farmers. I do not know what they are doing.

“Let the secretaries of the central and state government sit for two days, discuss the issue. They can go to the field and talk to the farmers and decide,” said the bench which also comprised justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant.

The bench said the Indian Meteorological Department, which now has sophisticated mechanism and tools, must be having statistical data on expected wind direction and the time period when the air quality worsens and they can be used in evolving preventive actions in anticipation by the Commission for Air Quality Management in the NCR and Adjoining Areas.

“You did not have computers in those days and now you have super computers and if you prepare the statistical model, namely what is the data for the last five years and based on that you can plan the expected level of pollution for the next 15 days. Why should Delhiites suffer this severe and very poor air quality,” the bench observed.

It said the measures suggested by the Commission on Air Quality Management to deal with industrial pollution, thermal plants, vehicular emissions, dust control, diesel generators as well as encouraging work from home be continued for the time being and it will take up the matter on Monday.

“Take the measures for the next two-three days and we will hear this matter next Monday. In the meantime if pollution becomes 100 (AQI) etc then you can lift some ban,” it said.

On the issue of construction workers, the bench said the states have huge funds on account of labour cess collected from real estate firms and that can be used for paying the workmen who have been deprived of their livelihood due to the ban.

“One of the issues is as to how many thousands of crores of rupees are available with the states under the labour cess… I know some states have thousands of crores of rupees. Let them pay the workers for the last four-five days,” the bench said.

At the outset, Mehta referred to the measures which are still in force to deal with the spike in the air pollution and said that the situation, which is being monitored, will be reviewed in a few days.

He said the measures like banning the entry of trucks, except few exceptions, complete closure of all public and private educational institutions, and closure of six thermal power plants in the 300 km radius of the national capital are still in force.

Construction and demolition activities were stopped in Delhi-NCR till November 21 and now this has not been extended in view of an improved scenario, the law officer said, adding that the ban on industries, which are not running on gas-based fuel, was still continuing.

“All other directions issued by the Commission are still in force,” he said, adding that buses have been used to ferry central govt employees from various destinations in the national capital to the CGO complex.

Over 570 construction sites were banned in the last five days and actions against polluting vehicles have been taken, Mehta said, adding that the dust management directions are in operation and more mechanized road sweeping machines have been deployed.

“These are all ad-hoc measures. The commission has to do a scientific study by having statistical models. You have the wind pattern for the 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 the impact of those steps for the next seven days. Somebody has to conduct that study. It must be science based,” the bench said.

It 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,” the bench said.

“When the weather becomes severe then we take measures. These measures have to be taken in anticipation, and this anticipation has to be based on a statistical model and scientific study and pattern,” it said.

The law officer referred to the records and said that the commission has come out with a graded response plan for Delhi and the adjoining states.

Thermal and hot mix plants have been closed and as soon as the air quality falls under severe category, the graded actions are being taken, he said.

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the petitioner, referred to a news report and said that due to elections in Punjab, no fines are being imposed on farmers for stubble burning and moreover, the incentives are not being given to the farmers.

“We are not concerned. We are only concerned with pollution…We cannot really micro-manage what the states have to do,” the bench said.

The law officer said that the AQI was at 403 on November 16 and now it is at 260 and the situation will be reviewed by the commission.

“We are not going to dispose of this matter and we are not going to close this matter. Even if, by virtue of God’s act or by virtue of restrictions, the pollution comes down, we want to continue with this matter and we want to give some final orders.

“So long as the seriousness is there we have to hear this matter almost everyday or on alternate days. You are saying 290 and now we have just seen that it is 381 at present and wind speed is at 3 km and so this 290 is not correct,” the bench said.

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