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Supreme Court gives “24 hours” stern warning over Delhi, NCR pollution

By Saima Siddiqui 
Updated Date

New Delhi: Warning of strict action, the Supreme Court on Thursday gave a 24-hour ultimatum to centre, Delhi, and neighboring states to act against pollution as air quality keeps deteriorating despite the government claims. Expressing dissatisfaction with the measures taken over the last few weeks, the apex court said, “We feel that nothing is happening and the pollution keeps increasing… only time is being wasted,” Chief Justice NV Ramana said during the hearing. 

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It is to be mentioned that this is the fourth straight week that the top court heard arguments over the air crisis in the national capital and nearby cities.

Delhi’s air quality deteriorated sharply last month after Diwali. Farm fires, industrial and vehicular pollution were also cited as a source – but that led to debates and blame games. A month on, the city is still gasping for air.

Criticising the Arvind Kejriwal government over the reopening of the schools, the top court said that “three-year-olds and four-year-olds are going to schools but adults are working from home”. “We will appoint somebody to administer your government,” Chief Justice Ramana said.

Lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi – representing the Delhi government – responded: “On schools, there is a lot of debate on ‘learning loss’. We reopened with the condition including the option for online.”

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“You are saying you left it optional. But who wants to sit at home? We also have children and grandchildren. We know the problems they have been facing since the pandemic. If you don’t take action we will take strict action tomorrow. We are giving you 24 hours,” the Chief Justice said in sharp response. 

Delhi schools reopened on Monday, about ten days after the closure over the air crisis. 

The top court asked Mr Singhvi to “get instructions on what the Delhi government is doing on schools and offices.” Just hours the top court’s comments, Delhi announced “closure of schools till further orders”.

Tough questions on action against industrial sites and checks on entry of vehicles in Delhi were asked during the hearing. The panel – the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas or CAQM – on air pollution has “no power of enforcement, and no power of real prosecution,” Justice DY Chandrachud observed.

“When hearings on the issue started there was a certain AQI (Air Quality Index). If as many efforts as you are claiming have been made then why is pollution increasing? That is the simple question a layman will ask. So many arguments by lawyers and so many government claims. But why is pollution increasing?” the Chief Justice asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.

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“In an emergency, you have to work actively and with creativity.

Do we have to tell the bureaucracy every time what is to be done? What is the point of a 20-30 members committee. We can’t enforce or infuse creativity into your bureaucracy. They have to think of measures themselves,” he added.

The focus should be less on optics and more on the action, it was suggested during the hearing as Justice Surya Kant said: “Nothing has been followed. While we came to the court there are people sitting in the middle of the road with banners of ‘Save environment’. that’s why we say…only popularity slogans.”

The court will hear the matter again tomorrow.

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