New Delhi: Terming the pollution in national capital as ‘atrocious’, the Supreme Court on Monday said that people are not safe even inside their house. The top court ordered an immediate and complete stop to stubble burning by farmers in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, blamed for 46 per cent of the pollution.
The court also noted that people in the NCR were losing “precious years of their lives” and cannot be “left to die” due to the current pollution situation which should not be there in a civilised country, adding it had no sympathy for farmers indulging in burning of stubble as they are putting lives of others at risk.
As air quality in the Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR) remained in the ‘severe’ category, the top court did some tough-talking and warned that the administration at large will be made accountable even if there is a single incident of stubble burning henceforth. It issued a slew of directions that also included stopping all construction and demolition activities as well as garbage and waste burning in Delhi-NCR till further orders.
“No room is safe to live in Delhi. People are not safe even inside their house. It is atrocious,” the court said.
The bench also questioned the Delhi government over its much-publicised odd-even vehicle scheme, which kicked off Monday, and directed it to place the data of pollution levels of previous periods when the scheme was put in place to curb air pollution.
Separately, the National Green Tribunal(NGT) took cognisance of the deteriorating air quality in the NCR and asked officials from the Delhi government, Central Pollution Control Board, Delhi Pollution Control Committee and Ministry of Environment and Forests to appear before it on Tuesday.
Delhi-NCR has been engulfed in a thick blanket of smog since the festival of Diwali on October 27.
On Sunday, the national capital’s average air quality index (AQI) stood at 494, the highest since November 6, 2016 when it was 497.
On Monday, the AQI at 4 pm in Delhi read 416, which is still in the ‘severe’ category, according to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
Anguished over the rampant instances of stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, the apex court summoned their chief secretaries on November 6, saying the time has come to “fix accountability” for this kind of situation which violates the right to life of citizens.
The court directed the Centre and the states concerned to prepare a roadmap within three weeks to prevent a situation in future like the one that is currently prevailing in the region due to toxic air quality.
A bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta directed the chief secretaries of the three states as well as the district collectors and the police machinery to ensure that not even a single instance of stubble burning takes place there henceforth.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh reiterated that the Centre should give financial assistance to farmers to wean them away from the practice of stubble burning.
“The ball is in the Centre’s court and it should take concrete decisions to resolve the problem,” Singh told reporters in Chandigarh.
Senior advocate Aparajita Singh, assisting the top court as an amicus curiae in the pollution matter, told the bench that as per the recent affidavit filed by the Centre, stubble burning contributes to around 46 per cent pollution in Delhi-NCR.
The top court said Rs 1 lakh penalty will be imposed for construction or demolition activities in Delhi-NCR and the offenders involved in garbage or waste burning would be penalised by Rs 5,000.
Regarding pollution due to dust on roads, the bench directed that water be sprinkled on roads having more dust and traffic plan be prepared so as to tackle the issue of pollution due to traffic congestion.
The bench observed that it is shocking that every year, Delhi-NCR is choking due to severe pollution and “we are not able to do anything”.
“It cannot be done in a civilised country,” the bench said, adding, “If people do not respect rights of others, then they also have no rights. Right to life is the most important right”.
“The air quality index (AQI) level in bedrooms is above 500-600. This is the figure in Lutyens Delhi. Can we survive in this? This is not the way we can survive. People are losing precious years of their life in Delhi due to this,” it said.
During the hearing, the bench asked as to why there should be unabated stubble burning year after year in the three states and though a lot of hue and cry has been made over it, they have not done anything to tackle the problem.
“You are asking people to die. Your states (Punjab and Haryana) are also badly affected. Is this the administration left in Punjab and Haryana? Every year this is happening. We will fasten the liability of states and panchayats also,” the bench said.
“People are being advised not to come to Delhi. Who is responsible for this? The state governments are responsible. They are only interested in electioneering. They do not take any responsibility. We will not tolerate this,” it said.
The bench said in case of violation of its directions regarding steps to curb stubble burning, it would haul up the entire administration, right from the chief secretary to the Gram Panchayat and ‘Sarpanch’ level, and they all would be held responsible.
It also asked governments of the three states to explain as to why they should not be asked to pay compensation for the damage caused as they have “totally failed” to prevent stubble burning in their respective areas.
The top court also directed authorities to ensure there is no power cut in Delhi-NCR so that generators are not used except in emergency essential services.