The Supreme Court on Saturday expressed grave concern about the dire situation caused by the deteriorating air quality in Delhi, with the Chief Justice of India saying that the situation is so bad that judges are forced to wear masks at home.
The exasperated CJI also suggested two days of lockdown to tackle the industrial and vehicle pollution. "Tell us how soon we can reduce AQI by 200 points," he said.
A special bench chaired by him also asked the Centre and the concerned State governments for details of ‘Happy seeder’ machines supplied to farmers.
(Happy Seeder is a tractor-mounted machine that cuts and lifts rice straw, sows wheat into the soil, and deposits the straw over the sown area as mulch. It helps in reining in crop stubble burning, which is partially responsible for the pollution in the Delhi-NCR region.)
The CJI also referred to a document placed before the Bench that says air quality in Delhi is in severe category and it will become worse. "Take an emergency decision. We will look at long term later. Something needs to be done so that in two to three days we feel better," he observed. ‘‘Why don’t you ask the Punjab and Haryana chief secretaries to cease stubble burning for a few days, suggested the CJI. The solicitor general said the chief secretaries were slated to meet later in the day.
The Bench was hearing a petition filed by Aditya Dubey, a 17-year old Delhi student, on pollution in the national capital.
On Solicitor General Tushar Mehta claiming on behalf of the Centre that 2 lakh ‘happy seeder’ machines are available at 80% subsidy and free of cost through cooperative societies, Justice Surya Kant shot back: "Can the officials tell the actual price after subsidy. I am a farmer, the CJI is also from a farmer’s family, we know about it." Justice Chandrachud, in turn, stressed that the question is not of availability of machines.
The Solicitor General shared a short summary on steps taken by all stakeholders. It mentioned that stubble burning continues in Punjab.
CJI Ramana intervened at this point: "You are making it out as if farmers are responsible for this. What about the steps taken to contain the pollution in Delhi -- steps like emission controls etc.?
He wanted everyone to focus on the question, how to control this burning situation within two or three or four days.
Justice Chandrachud remarked: "In so far as the farmers are concerned, the problem is not enforcement but of incentivization. If you give the incentives, why won't a farmer switch to a happy seeder machine? You cannot enforce these things."
At this stage, the Solicitor General pleaded that the matter be adjourned to Monday to enable him to submit an affidavit on the basis of the charts he had just received.
Justice Kant told him not to avoid a pointed question by the CJI. "Answer the question of the CJI. Is 80% of the pollution in Delhi due to causes other than stubble burning?"
The CJI again stressed that some percentage of pollution may be from stable burning, but what about other causes like industrial and vehicle pollution.
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