The Supreme Court on Wednesday said that the crisis of poor air quality in the national capital calls for a scientific study on wind patterns so that a statistical model can be devised to counter the air pollution and advance measures can be taken before the situation deteriorates in the Delhi NCR.
The court indicated that it would continue to hear the case till a lasting and credible solution to the recurring issue is found and the necessary mechanism is put in place. A special Bench comprising Chief Justice N V Ramana and justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant pulled up the Centre for the crisis and said the air pollution case will not be closed without giving final orders.
The bench said: “Even if the pollution level goes down now, we will continue to hear this case and issue directions. The problem is that there are a lot of expectations that the court is doing and the government is not doing anything… Major contribution to improving the situation has been the wind. Restrictions or measures to curb the situation have to come into play automatically.”
The court added that the Centre and States of Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh needed to take steps in anticipation, instead of resorting to ad hoc measures like street cleaning through machines, anti-smog guns, dust management etc.
“What message we are sending across the globe about the ambient air quality in the national capital,” the judge asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who listed out measures including the closure of thermal plants, educational institutions and stopping of entry of trucks till November 26.
Referring to winds from the north-west that have improved the air quality somewhat, Justice Chandrachud said the Air Quality Commission should conduct a scientific study and the model will also have to factor in wind patterns. “We wait for the weather to become severe before taking steps. You have to take measures in anticipation based on a scientific study in the last five years. These ad-hoc measures won’t help. What are the steps you will take and the impact of that in the next seven days is what we want?”
However, the court clarified that it “can’t micromanage” the states on farm fires, and the government should itself decide on fines. It asked Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh governments about any study to show how much stubble has been removed from these states and what emission control methods have been adopted.
“This is going to be a big problem. How are you going to tackle the stubble-burning issue? We are using our common sense in discussing this issue. What is the bureaucracy doing? Let the Secretaries decide something… why can’t they go to fields and speak to the farmers, scientists and devise a permanent solution?”
So far only a ban on construction work has been lifted, while the ban on entry of trucks into the national capital region, shutdown of power plants and other restrictions have remained in place.
When a counsel for construction workers raised the issue of hardships faced by labourers in the wake of the ban on construction activities in the NCR, the Bench asked the States to use labour welfare cess to disburse money to the labourers in such a situation. Mehta said he will communicate the apex court’s view to the relevant ministry in the government.
The court adjourned the case till Monday, saying if in the meantime, air quality improves significantly, the governments can ease restrictions further.