Lack of concrete measures by the Centre and states to reduce the severe pollution levels in Delhi and NCR made a bench of Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant vent its anguish, saying, “We don’t think the executive governments will sit together and take a decision as we had expected on Saturday. It is very unfortunate that we have to set an agenda for them and the areas they have to focus on for taking urgent decisions.”
“We find that major contributors of air pollution in the National Capital Region are — construction activities, running of nonessential industries, transport and running of coal-fired power plants. We find that some initiatives have been taken by the ‘Commission for Air Quality Management in NCR and Adjoining Areas’ as also by Delhi government in compliance with directions passed by this court. We appreciate the steps taken by them,” it said.
“However, after going through the actual exercise undertaken at the ground level, we find that the authorities have not yet indicated the broader steps that they are going to take to control the factors responsible for poor air quality,” the bench said, and directed the Centre to call an emergency meeting on Tuesday with all stakeholders and discuss the areas underlined by the court, and decide what further steps can be taken, along with the implementation mechanism.
The SC highlighted that stubble burning was not the major contributor of pollution, even though the Centre said it affected Delhi and NCR air for two months in a year. The bench said, “So far as the air pollution caused by stubble burning is concerned, the affidavits filed in the matter do indicate that the stubble burning is not responsible for causing air pollution to that extent except for the two months of October and November,” it said.
At the same time, the CJI-led bench conceded that there has been a spike in stubble burning incidents in Punjab and Haryana. It asked both these states “to persuade the farmers and impress upon them not to set fire to stubble at least for a period of two weeks”.
“We direct the Union of India and the NCR states to consider allowing their officers and officials to work from home, as is done by the Delhi government, to minimise vehicular traffic,” the bench said and posted the matter for further hearing on Wednesday, with a rider that the Centre and concerned states must come out with a concrete action plan.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta said the Centre has been coordinating with the states and Delhi government, who are not only cooperating but doing their best to tackle the crisis situation. He agreed with the SC, which had said that sources other than stubble burning contribute nearly 70-80% of the pollution in NCR, and said that stubble burning contributed around 4-10% of air pollution.
The CJI-led bench said, “Stubble burning is not the major cause of pollution. Dust, industry and vehicles are main contributors. If you take steps relating to these three issues, pollution will come down. Stubble burning we can tackle by taking long term measures.”
Justice Chandrachud said, “Stubble burning contributes 4% to the pollution as per your affidavit. So, till now we were targeting a source of pollution which is insignificant.” But petitioner Aditya Dubey’s counsel Vikas Singh, Nikhil Jain and Meenesh Dubey protested and said that forthcoming elections in Punjab are forcing the government towards fudging data on stubble burning. “Stubble burning cases in Punjab are not being reported and no action is being taken as the crucial elections are approaching,” Singh argued.
The bench said it was not concerned either with elections or politics. “All we want is concrete measures on the ground level to reduce pollution.” SG said the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) has been enforced since 2017 and has yielded results.