New Delhi: Nothing is happening on the ground to control the deteriorating air quality in Delhi-NCR, the Supreme Court said on Thursday and directed the Centre and Delhi government to come out with suggestions to control the pollution within 24 hours, observing, “you cannot fire bullets from our shoulders”.
Stating that “we cannot…infuse creativity in your bureaucracy”, the apex court warned it will have to do something extraordinary if the authorities failed to control pollution.
A special bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana said it expected serious action on the ground to bring down pollution levels.
“We think that nothing is happening as the pollution level is increasing. We think that we are wasting our time… We are giving you 24 hours. We want you to take a hard look at this and come up with a solution with seriousness,” said the bench, also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant.
Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta requested the bench for one more day to respond to the concerns expressed by the court.
“Mr Mehta, we expect serious action if you can’t take, then we will take, We are giving you 24 hours,” the bench said.
The apex court said that governments cannot fire from the Court’s shoulders but should instead take effective measures to solve the problem.
“You cannot fire bullets from our shoulders, you have to take steps. We cannot enforce or infuse creativity in your bureaucracy, you have to come up with some steps,” the bench said.
The apex court expressed dissatisfaction over the steps taken to control pollution and asked about the powers of the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas to enforce compliance with its directions.
“We are not able to control the pollution in spite of taking measures. You tell us how many members in this Commission,” the bench asked.
Mehta told the bench that there are 16 members in the commission. He then sought time to take instructions.
“Please let me speak with the Minister. The highest functionaries are equally worried. There needs to be a reworking of power structure. Let me come back,” Mehta said.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the petitioners, submitted that there is a need to constitute a task force and suggested that retired Supreme Court judge Justice R F Nariman could be asked to head.
“The level air quality index today is 500 which is serious and that means someone is flouting this. All these directions like water sprinklers etc are working or not has to be seen like a proper flying squad,” Singh stated. The bench said it will hear the matter at 10 am on Friday morning.
The apex court also came down hard on the Delhi government over its ‘Red Light On, Gaadi Off’ campaign to curb vehicular pollution, saying it was nothing but a popular slogan.
It said the Aam Aadmi Party government had made various assurances such as work from home, lockdown, and closure of schools and colleges in the previous hearings. However, despite these assurances, the children are going to school while the elders are working from home.
“Poor young boys standing in the middle of the road with banners, who is taking care of their health? Again, we’ve to say, other than the popular slogan, what else is it?” the bench said.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the Delhi government, referred to the affidavit and said the government had taken various measures.
“This is another cause of pollution, so many affidavits daily,” the bench then remarked. “Is it disclosed in the affidavit how many of these young boys are on the road? For publicity? A young boy standing in the middle of the road with a banner in hand. What is this? Someone has to take care of their health”.
In response, Singhvi said the “boys” were civil volunteers. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had initiated the ‘Red Light On, Gaadi Off’ campaign from October 21 to November 15, saying that even if 10 lakh vehicles in the city joined the campaign, the PM10 levels would fall by 1.5 tonnes and PM2.5 by 0.4 tonnes in a year.
Under the initiative, government officials from the transport department, volunteers, and traffic police urge commuters to switch off their vehicles while waiting for the traffic light to turn green.
The top court had earlier directed the Centre to respond to issues related to construction activities including the Central Vista project under its domain besides asking Delhi and NCR states to file their replies to show compliance of directions issued by the commission on air quality management to curb pollution.
The apex court was hearing a plea filed by environmental activist Aditya Dubey and law student Aman Banka, who sought directions to provide stubble-removing machines to small and marginal farmers for free.