New Delhi: The central government Monday claimed stubble burning by farmers contributes to just 10 per cent of air pollution in Delhi, prompting the Supreme Court to remark that the “hue and cry” over seasonal farm fires is without any basis.
“So you agree in principle that stubble burning is not the main cause. This hue and cry (over stubble burning causing air pollution in Delhi) has no scientific basis,” a three-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
“In fact, now the cat is out of the bag. The farmers’ stubble burning contributes to 4 per cent of pollution. So we are targetting something that is insignificant,” the court said.
The bench also expressed its displeasure over the failure of the Centre and states — Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan — to suggest immediate measures to control rising air pollution in the national capital.
“It is unfortunate we have to set an agenda for them (Executive), what areas they have to focus and what suggestions need to be taken,” the court said, lamenting that the Executive has not acted in the way the court expected it to, in order to resolve the current state of emergency.
Mehta had presented a consolidated affidavit on behalf of the central government over measures taken to control rising pollution levels in Delhi. The data on stubble burning was part of this affidavit. This document was pursuant to a court order issued after a detailed hearing Saturday, when the court suggested imposing a lockdown in Delhi to tackle the drop in the national capital’s air quality.
On Saturday, the court had also brushed aside the Centre’s contention that stubble burning was a cause for a sudden rise in air pollution. A high-level meeting followed the court hearing, after which the Delhi government announced the closure of schools and banned construction in the city.
Even though the Centre’s affidavit supported the court’s view on stubble burning, Mehta in his submissions clarified the fires were majorly contributing to pollution during the two months in winter.
However, unwilling to accept this statement, the bench turned its ire towards the Delhi government for faulting the farmers. Referring to its affidavit, the bench, also comprising justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Surya Kant, remarked: “They have completely blamed the farmers.”
It noted that according to the central government affidavit, dust is the primary cause for high pollution levels, and grilled the Delhi government on whether 69 mechanised machines are sufficient to clean the city roads.
“Tell us how many machines do you need to clean 8,500 km of Delhi roads and how soon can you augment the capacity,” the bench asked Delhi government lawyer and senior counsel Rahul Mehra.
Unable to respond, Mehra requested the court to seek this information from municipal corporations, as they were the implementing agency. “If they can let us know, we will do the needful,” Mehra said.
At this, the bench shot back, “So you are passing the buck to municipal corporations. If you give us this kind of lame excuses, we will be forced to order an audit of your revenues to find out how much have you spend on popularity slogans instead of looking after people.”
It further told Mehra that corporations in some other cases have claimed that they don’t have the money to even pay salaries to their employees. “And, you are passing the buck on them.”
The court went on to read from the Centre’s affidavit and said the major areas of concern were construction, industries and transport, as these three sectors were responsible for 75 per cent pollution.
The judges asked the Centre and the states to hold an emergency meeting to work out modalities to minimise their impact on air quality.
“These are all city-related issues. You need to work on them. Why can’t the Centre also issue advisory to make work from home compulsory for its employees till the situation becomes better?” the court told Mehta.
On the court’s suggestion to have a lockdown, Mehra said the Delhi government was ready for the same, but a more effective mechanism would be if the lockdown is also imposed in the NCR region.
The bench directed the Centre to hold another review meeting and come up with concrete measures, instead of providing details of the steps already taken.
“We just want the pollution to be controlled. What steps need to be taken for that is your problem. We are not here to advise,” the judges said.
The court also asked the neighbouring states to enlist the incentives given to farmers for not resorting to stubble burning.
(Edited by Neha Mahajan)