The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the State governments of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi to ensure that stubble burning is “forthwith” stopped as an immediate measure to protect the lives and health of people.

“Pollution is not a political game where one State shifts the blame to another depending on the ruling political dispensation… This (pollution) is a murder of the health of the people. You see children in Delhi suffering from health issues,” Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul said.

As a long-term measure, the Bench of Justices Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia agreed with the submission made by the Punjab government to take steps to incentivise farmers to switch over from paddy cultivation to alternate traditional crops like millets by offering them the minimum support price (MSP).

Punjab, on its own admission in court on Tuesday, said it was one of the biggest contributors of large-scale burning of paddy stubble. The State is also witnessing a drastic lowering of the water table due to paddy cultivation which spans across 31 lakh acres.

The Bench asked the Delhi government to respond to a submission by amicus curiae, senior advocate Aparajita Singh, that the ‘odd-even’ scheme was an “unscientific method” to control vehicular pollution. The scheme does not stop diesel vehicles from plying the capital’s roads.

Court’s suggestions

The court asked the Delhi government’s response to its suggestion to stop stage taxis registered outside Delhi from entering the capital, especially during this time as an additional immediate measure to control the increasing pollution.

“There are ‘n’ number of taxis seen on the roads. Every second vehicle is a taxi sporting Haryana, Uttar Pradesh or other State registrations. Each invariably carries one passenger … Are you monitoring or controlling vehicles coming into Delhi, is there any thought process applied to it?” Justice Kaul asked the Delhi government.

At one point, Justice Kaul said “god knows what would have happened if the metro service was not there”.

The court sought information from the neighbouring States of Delhi on the implementation of the colour-code sticker scheme to identify polluting vehicles based on their fuel type. It noted that the scheme was put to action only in Delhi. The other States has not even bothered to file compliance reports in the apex court.

The court agreed to take up on Friday (November 10) senior advocate Vikas Singh’s application that the implementation of the construction ban imposed in Delhi was a “mere eyewash”. Meanwhile, the court directed the Delhi government to come clean on the environment compensation charges it had collected and utilised so far.

The court made the local Station House Officers and the Chief Secretaries of the States concerned responsible for ensuring that no further instances of crop burning happened.

The court directed the four States to meet with the Cabinet Secretary on November 8 to chalk out steps to redeem a safe environment. The proposed measures have to be placed in court on November 10.

The Supreme Court made clear its firm intention to fight pollution. “As they say, if we start the bulldozer, we will not stop it until we take this issue to its logical conclusion,” Justice Kaul said.