‘Giving 24 hours or we will give order’: SC raps Delhi govt over rising air pollution levels

Delhi air pollution: "We are serious about industrial and vehicular pollution. You cannot fire bullets from our shoulders, you have to take steps. Why are schools open?" the court asked

Making clear its displeasure over the steps being taken to tackle air pollution in the national capital, the Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Centre and Delhi government to come up with a concrete action plan in a day, failing which the court would be forced to intervene.

“We will take (the matter) up tomorrow morning… Please respond by then. Otherwise don’t force us… We expect serious action. If you can’t, we will do it. If you want an order, we will give you an order. We will appoint someone to administer your government,” Chief Justice of India N V Ramana said while hearing a petition seeking steps to control the pollution.

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The bench, also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant, 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, children were going to school while elders were working from home.

Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the Delhi government, said schools were reopened after experts said there was a learning loss for students due to offline classes. He said they had been reopened only for those who wanted to go.

Not enthused by the argument, the bench said, ‘Don’t use our shoulders to fire… If you say only those who want to come should come, then all will. Who will want to sit at home now…”

Schools in the national capital reopened from Monday (November 29) for students of all classes. The government had shut schools in the city earlier in November due to a spike in air pollution levels.

The court also came down heavily on the government over its ‘Red Light On, Gaadi Off’ campaign to curb vehicular pollution, saying it was nothing but a popular slogan. “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 a popular slogan, what else is it?” it asked.

When Singhvi referred to the government’s affidavit on the various measures taken, the bench remarked, “This is another cause of pollution, so many affidavits daily.”

“We are not Opposition leaders. We are concerned about the implementation of our orders,” said the CJI as Singhvi attempted to explain the NCT government’s response to the situation.

“As a layman, I’s asking this… if all these steps are being implemented, then why are pollution levels going up? Stubble burning, which was the major reason according to Delhi government, and many others have come down… Then where is this (pollution) coming from?” the CJI asked.

The bench then questioned the Centre on what the ‘Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas’, with as many as 28 members, was doing.

Justice Chandrachud pointed out that the commission does not have any powers to enforce its orders except for a clause enabling imposing a fine. He pointed out that as stated by the court in the previous hearing, a fine alone was not a solution.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said it was for the state government to implement the directions of the commission. The SG added that he would check with the minister on what could be done about this, and appraise the court.

At this point, the CJI said, “In the chamber itself, we thought we should do something extraordinary. We cannot induce creativity in your bureaucracy. It’s up to them…”

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