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SC puts order appointing Justice Lokur to monitor states on stubble burning in abeyance

Supreme Court put its own order in abeyance after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the Centre is planning to create a permanent body to tackle the issue of stubble burning.

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New Delhi: More than a week after it appointed one of its former judges, Justice M.B. Lokur, to head the one-person commission to monitor measures adopted by states to prevent stubble burning, the Supreme Court Monday kept its order in abeyance.

A bench led by Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde agreed to put on hold the execution of its 16 October order after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta informed the court about the Centre’s proposal to create a permanent body by enacting a law to tackle stubble burning in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana. The agricultural activity of stubble burning chokes these states and the National Capital Region during the months of October and November, leading to a severe spike in air pollution.

The bench was hearing a petition filed by a student, Aditya Dubey, complaining that despite assurances given by the three states last year to curb stubble burning, NASA images showed that there were five times more farm fires than during the same period last year.

The court had, on 16 October, tasked the Justice Lokur Commission to facilitate and coordinate the activities of state and central agencies to resolve the annual problem. Mehta had then registered his protest against Justice Lokur’s nomination and said he would be forced to move an application to modify the order. But the bench had gone ahead with its order, remarking it did not intend to dilute the powers of statutory authorities.

Also read: Delhi’s air quality continues to remain ‘poor’, likely to worsen due to spike in farm fires

‘Permanent body to deal with stubble burning’

Mehta told the court Monday, “The government has taken a holistic view and is considering bringing a legislation on the issue specifically to deal with the problem of air pollution in Delhi-NCR, which will put a permanent body in place with participants from all affected areas.” The solicitor did not elaborate on the framework of the proposed law, but admitted that stubble burning must be curbed on war footing.

The CJI called it a welcome step. “This is something that the government should have acted on. This is not a matter for PIL. The only issue is that people are choking because of the pollution,” CJI Bobde said.

Following Mehta’s request, the bench kept its order on the Justice Lokur Commission in abeyance “for now.” Mehta told the court that the Centre will bring the new legislation in “three to four” days.

Also read: 65% Delhi-NCR households already experiencing pollution-related ailments, finds survey

‘Want to keep our order in abeyance, what is your problem?’

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the petitioner, opposed Mehta’s suggestion to put the commission on hold. He argued against the suspension of the 16 October order, saying the new legislation will be implemented next year.

“I don’t see why the Union wants the order which formulated the one-man panel to tackle the issue of stubble burning in states headed by Justice Lokur to be suspended. Ultimately, it’s for the benefit of the people of Delhi,” Singh told the bench.

But, the CJI retorted: “We think our own measure should be held in abeyance. What is your problem?”

Mehta sought to assuage the concerns raised by Singh and assured that the legislation will be comprehensive and enforced immediately. “This government acts fast,” he said. The court has adjourned the case until 29 October.

Also read: These six steps are key to Arvind Kejriwal govt’s war against winter smog in Delhi


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