The Supreme Court Wednesday asked the Centre and the NCR states to continue implementing for few days the measures to ensure improvement in air quality, saying that preventive actions are needed in anticipation to curb pollution even as it wondered what signals are being sent to the world.
When the weather becomes severe then we take measures. These measures have to be taken in anticipation, and this anticipation has to be based on a statistical model and scientific study and pattern, a special bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana said.
This is the national capital. Look at the signals we are sending to the world. You can stop these activities in anticipation itself so the severe grade does not happen, said the bench which also comprised justices D Y Chandarchud and Surya Kant.
The measures suggested by the Commission for Air Quality Management in the NCR and Adjoining Areas to deal with industrial pollution, thermal plants, vehicular emissions, dust control, diesel generators as well as encouraging work from home be continued for the time being, the apex court said.
Take the measures for the next two-three days and we will hear this matter next Monday. In the meantime if pollution becomes 100 (AQI) etc then you can lift some ban, it said.
Referring to the submissions of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on automatic graded action plan in view of worsening air pollution, the top court said these are ad hoc mechanisms and the commission on pollution will have to undertake a scientific study and take preventive action in anticipation.
On the stubble burning, the bench wondered as to what bureaucrats are doing and said that officials like chief secretaries and others should go and meet farmers, experts and scientists.
As government lawyers and we judges are discussing this. What the bureaucracy has been doing all these years? Let them go to villages, they can go to the field, talk to farmers and take a decision. They can involve scientists and why cannot this happen, the bench observed.
On the issue of construction workers, the bench said the states have huge funds on account of labour cess collected from real estate firms and that can be used for paying the workmen who have been deprived of their livelihood due to the ban.
Can the construction workers' fund be used as long as workers are out of work... How much money is there in labour welfare fund. You pay the workers from that, it said.
At the outset, Mehta referred to measures that are still being in force to deal with the spike in air pollution and said that the situation, which is being monitored, will be reviewed in a few days.
He said the measures like banning the entry of trucks, except a few exceptions, complete closure of all public and private educational institutions, and closure of six thermal power plants in the 300 km radius of the national capital are still in force.
Earlier, the bench had directed authorities to ensure implementation of the decisions taken in a meeting to curb air pollution, observing that it cannot get into the nitty-gritty and the bureaucracy has developed a "sort of inertia" of not taking decisions that are left to the courts.
The court was hearing a plea filed by a senior advocate seeking directions to provide stubble-removing machines to farmers for free. The petitioner also said that the government was not imposing fines on stubble burning as polls in neighbouring states such as Punjab and Uttar Pradesh are due in early 2022.
The court also said that the central government should prepare a scientific model based on the last five-years data to come up with a solution to the pollution problem.
Meanwhile, the air quality in Delhi has improved over the past 24 hours. The Air Quality Index (AQI) in the national capital was recorded at 280 on Wednesday morning, slightly better than Tuesday. AQI in has been oscillating between ‘very poor’ and ‘severe’ categories for the past 20 days in Delhi.
The air quality is likely to remain in the “poor" or the lower end of the “very poor" category on Wednesday and the “very poor" category from Thursday, according to Air Quality Early Warning System for Delhi.