The Supreme Court on Wednesday witnessed heated arguments on air pollution in Delhi and its neighbourhood, as it remained dissatisfied with the action plan to tackle the issue. It fixed the next hearing on Wednesday (March 24), after it was told that "relatively strong winds" Sunday onwards will improve the air quality.
It blamed bureaucratic inertia and apathy even as Delhi's air quality remained in the "very poor" category for the third day, with the air quality index touching 389 in Delhi at 9 AM, better than Tuesday's 403 at 4 PM, and nearly the same status in the neighbourhood.
The government must take responsibility and "not everything can be done through judicial order," the court said.
As a blame game erupted over the data on farm fires and the Chief Justice pulled up the officials concerned: "Debates on TV are causing more pollution than any other source. Everyone has his own agenda. We are trying to work out a solution here." He intervened when Solicitor General Tushar Mehta complained about "nasty comments" by the TV media misquoting him and the court to create confusion.
A special bench of Chief Justice of India N V Ramana and Justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant is hearing a petition filed by 17-year old Delhi student Aditya Dubey, concerning rising levels of pollution in the national capital.
In a related development, a construction workers' body has moved the court, seeking ex gratia relief for daily workers due to the sudden ban on constructions, to curb pollution caused by dust.
The National Campaign Committee for Central Legislation on Construction Labour said the blanket ban on construction activities, without identifying and excluding those that do not contribute towards air pollution is "irrational, arbitrary and whimsical."
Justice Surya Kant, who had earlier insisted that farmers need incentives to find alternatives, on Wednesday yet again underscored: "Irrespective of figures in affidavits, we have to consider the plight of the farmers...what compels him to burn the stubble? Nobody is concerned about that. People enjoying life in five-star hotels in Delhi blame farmers. Look at their small land holdings. Can they afford the machines you all talk about?"
When Delhi government's senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi was about to cite data to counter the Centre, the CJI intervened: "If you see today's newspapers, each paper has its own statistics."
WFH: The Centre has opposed "work from home" as already effected by Delhi government. Instead, it has suggested car-pooling. The court suggested that those living in government colonies can use public transport to reduce pollution. In an affidavit, the Centre said it does not want to disrupt the working of offices which are returning to normal after a long time due to Covid pandemic, during which they had most worked from home.
Moreover, the Central government vehicles are minuscule fraction of the total vehicles in Delhi and stopping them would not make much difference in the air quality in the national capital, the affidavit said.
The Commission for Air Quality Management has directed Delhi and the NCR states to keep schools and other educational institutions shut till further orders and stop construction and demolition activities in the region till Sunday, as decided in an emergency meeting the previous day to bring down the air pollution.
The panel suggested a ban on entry of all trucks in the national Capital, except vehicles carrying essential goods, shutting of schools and 50 per cent attendance in offices.
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