New Delhi: The central government Monday sought the Supreme Court’s intervention in the “interest of justice” and “the emerging need to improve air quality”, as it urged the top court to seek compliance reports from five states/UTs — Delhi (UT), Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan — on directives issued by a commission set up to control rising air pollution levels in Delhi.
The Commission for Air Quality Management was constituted after the dissolution of the Supreme Court-appointed EPCA [Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority] in October 2020, with an objective to coordinate better with states neighbouring and close to Delhi, and find a resolution to air quality issues in the National Capital Region and adjoining areas.
In an affidavit filed in response to 19-year-old Aditya Dubey’s petition on rising air pollution in Delhi, the environment ministry sought the SC’s intervention for “effective implementation” of the commission’s directives to the five states. The five states, it said, have either not complied or have partially complied with the orders.
Taking note of the Centre’s submissions, the court asked the five states to file their affidavits to show compliance with the commission’s orders. An explanation was also sought from the Centre on an allegation made by the petitioner that construction work of Central Vista continued despite the top court’s order prohibiting construction activity in Delhi.
The affidavit listed out “45 directions and seven advisories” issued by the commission in the last 10 months, beginning December 2020, asking the five states to initiate “important steps” in various sectors to prevent deterioration of air quality.
The Centre told the court that during the monitoring of the status of the directions, certain shortcomings were found in the implementation of the same by the respective states.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said although non-compliance with the commission’s directives can lead to the initiation of criminal proceedings, the former has not done that so far.
On its part, the central government told the SC the commission is “regularly and scrupulously” monitoring and ensuring compliance with its directions. The affidavit enumerated data received from different states on action taken by local authorities under areas identified by the commission.
But on the ground, there are reports of “certain shortcomings”, it said. “Thus, in the interest of justice and in interest of the emergent need to improve the air quality in the region, it is respectfully submitted that the respective state governments may be directed to submit its compliance report,” the affidavit said.
According to the central government, in August this year, the states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan were told to shift industries operating in the NCR districts to cleaner fuels or PNG. “It is submitted that as per the data received by the commission the said direction is either partly complied with or still remains to be complied with,” the affidavit read.
Furthermore, the industries that already have gas supply available to them, but are still using other polluting fuels, were directed to move to cleaner fuel at the earliest. Even on this account, the central government claimed, states have either partly complied or not complied at all.
The central government also asked the SC to call for the status on implementation of the commission’s other directions, including a ban on the use of diesel generator sets, and impounding of petrol and diesel vehicles that are more than 15 years and 10 years old, respectively, and still found plying in the NCR.
On perusal of the document, a bench led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana remarked: “This commission is there for the purpose of preventing pollution. But the commission has been simply forwarding the court orders to states.”
The bench, also comprising justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Surya Kant, added there was non-compliance of directions on the part of the five states. “We will seek answers from them, otherwise, we will create an independent task force,” the court observed orally.
Delhi should submit status report on bus fleet, Centre says
With regard to Delhi, the Centre added, a status report on the implementation of the greening and plantation action plan should be called for.
It said urgent steps are required to be taken to augment the bus fleet that has come down by 50 per cent of what operated in 2010. The number of buses had come down from 6,000 in 2010 to 3,000 in the last decade, it said. According to a Supreme Court judgment, it added, it should have been augmented to 11,000.
To improve last-mile connectivity in Delhi and boost the transport system, the Centre said the cap on registration of autorickshaws should be removed. According to an earlier SC order, more than one lakh autorickshaws cannot be registered in Delhi.
In response to the Centre’s assessment on the number of buses, Delhi Government counsel, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, said it was “alarmingly false”. He assured the court the Union territory would provide all details to it in the form of an affidavit and claimed the government had started a special bus service for its employees.
(Edited by Neha Mahajan)