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Delhi pollution: Apex Court gives govt 24-hours for the govt to act

Krishnadas Rajagopal | | | Updated on: Dec 02, 2021
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Due to the gravity of the issue, it will hear the case at 10 am today, a half hour ahead of usual timings

The Supreme Court on Thursday gave the Government 24 hours to find a way to tackle the pollution in Delhi or step aside and let the Court act.

Chief Justice NV Ramana asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, “As a layman, I am asking you... It has been days since we have been hearing this case, yet pollution continues to remain high. Pollution continues to go up despite us passing orders, government saying it is doing everything and lawyers arguing so much... It is a simple question.”

The question came in the middle of yet another inconclusive hearing which ended with the court giving the government a 24-hour deadline to take “serious action” to beat the smog enveloping the Capital. The court decided to hear the case at 10 am on Friday, a half hour before usual court timings to underscore the gravity of the issue. It would be forced to pass directions on Friday if the government cannot decide and act in time to save lives.

“We are giving you 24 hours. Come with a decision,” the Chief Justice said.

Mehta said he has a plan and would discuss with the Environment Minister and come back on December 3.

“Some power structure has to be put in place...” he said. “We are not here as Opposition leaders. We are here to control pollution,” the CJI emphasised.

Justice DY Chandrachud, on the Special Bench, asked “But where is the pollution coming from? Which are the identifiable sources of pollution?”

The Solicitor General said it was mostly from industries and vehicles.“If industries are closed, it cannot be from industries, right?” Justice Chandrachud said.

The court asked whether there was any check in place to stop polluting vehicles from entering the city.

“Wherever they could be impounded, they have been. Ten thousand vehicles have been diverted from Delhi borders except those carrying essential goods,” Mehta replied.

The court asked whether there was any check at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh borders.

“We are unable to contribute anything towards reducing the pollution... There are numerous members in your Air Quality Commission... More than all the Departments of the Government of India... What is the Commission doing?” the CJI voiced the court’s exasperation.

“Most directions issued by the Commission is only on paper,” Justice Surya Kant said.

‘Lack of creativity’

The CJI said the problem was also a lack of creativity on the part of the bureaucracy to deal with the urgent situation.

“If an emergency is there, you have to act urgently and creatively. If a person has fever, and it is not going down, you have to treat differently... The bureaucracy has to be creative. We cannot induce creativity into your bureaucracy. That is for them to do... Let them act, we will support. What is the point of a 20 or 30-member Commission? It is a burden on the public exchequer,” the CJI said.

“Yes, the medicine is not working... Please give me time. Let me speak to the Minister. Let me respond tomorrow,” Mehta requested.

The court asked the Delhi government why schools have opened in the Capital. “Children of classes three and four are going to school early in the morning in the smog... While adults have the ‘work from home’ option, little children have to go to school?” Chief Justice Ramana asked.

Senior advocate AM Singhvi, for Delhi, said schools have given the online option. “If you want, we will close,” Singhvi said.

“Don’t shoot from our shoulders... Who will want to sit at home, you have given them the option. You take a call now,” the CJI responded.

Mehta interjected to clarify that Centre had said that schools would be closed “till further orders”.

Justice Kant said he caught sight of “daily wagers” standing in the middle of the road, some even without masks on, holding placards with about pollution.

“Except popularity slogans, what else is there?” Justice Kant asked.

Singhvi said these were civil volunteers occupied with the task of creating awareness about pollution. They were helping out in public interest.

“Well, somebody has to take care of their helath too...” Justice Kant retorted.

Singhvi said there was both “will and action” on the part of the Delhi government.

Justice Kant asked after the purchase of 1,000 new CNG buses. Singhvi said a total of 8,750 CNG buses were in operation in Delhi. Intensive inspections against polluting sources were on. Vehicles over 10 and 15 years old have been impounded. Around 585 teams have been constituted for dust prevention. However, Singhvi said completion of work on 21 hospitals, half of which to treat Covid-19 cases should be allowed.

“Emergency constructions, we will see,” the Bench noted.

Senior advocate Vikas Singh proposed the creation of “proper, empowered flying squads”. He said “development cannot be at the cost of lives. He objected to an adjournment of the case and sought immediate action.

Published on December 03, 2021

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