The Supreme Court today warned the Delhi government of an audit of ad spend over “passing the buck” as the national capital and neighboring cities continue to choke in toxic air even after a week. The top court yet again stressed the need to take urgent measures while asking the Arvind Kejriwal government to submit an action plan by tomorrow evening. The central government and the states, including Haryana and Punjab, have been told by the top court to consider work-from-home for their employees. Farmers should be told to halt stubble burning for a week, the court said.
On the affidavit submitted today by the Arvind Kejriwal government, Chief Justice NV Ramana asked: “What drastic measures are you taking? Forget affidavits. Road dust…what are you doing on that?”
Pollution due to factories, transportation, dust, and some part of stubble burning, are the major contributing factors, the top court underlined today.
When lawyer Rahul Mehra, representing the Delhi government, said that the Mayor of Municipal Corporation of Delhi (ruled by the BJP) can file an affidavit on how many mechanical road sweeping machines are needed to counter road dust pollution, the Chief Justice said, “Are you trying to put the blame on municipal corporations?” Are you trying to pass the buck?”
Warning the state government of an audit, Justice Surya Kant further said, “These kinds of lame excuses will force us to hold a proper audit of the revenues you are earning and spending on popularity slogans.”
Justice Surya Kant also delivered a reprimand on farmers being blamed for the rise in air pollution. He asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, “Are you agreeing in principle that stubble burning is not a major cause?”
When Mr Mehta replied with a “yes”, Justice Surya Kant said, “So that hue and cry has no scientific and legal basis.”
Observing that only 4 per cent of the toxic air in the city is due to stubble burning, (as per the centre’s affidavit in Supreme Court that cites a scientific report that says the contribution of agricultural burning to PM 2.5 is 4 per cent in winter), Justice DY Chandrachud said, “The cat is out of the bag. Farmers are blamed needlessly. The percentage is insignificant.”
Delhi today also told the court that it was “ready for lockdown” but similar steps will be required for the NCR (Near Capital Region).
Chief Justice NV Ramana responded saying, “We are not here to pass those orders to you. You speak to NCR states and decide how to control pollution.”
In its order today, the top court said, “The government has not indicated precisely what are the steps they are taking to control these (industrial pollution, pollution due to transportation, dust and stubble burning). We direct the central government to hold an emergency meeting tomorrow and what are the steps they can take”.
On stubble burning, the court said, “While it’s not the major cause… there is a lot of stubble burning happening in Punjab and Haryana. We request state governments to pursue farmers to stop the burning for a week… Punjab and Haryana should hold these meetings.”
The court will again hear the matter on Wednesday.
Delhi’s air quality marginally improved today but it is still in the “very poor” category. The AQI (Air Quality Index) has been no better in nearby cities which worsened after a widespread violation of the cracker ban on Diwali.
People have complained of breathlessness and burning sensation in the eyes. Authorities have suggested staying indoors.
Delhi and several cities in Haryana announced the closure of schools for a week. Delhi government employees are working from home this week.