On Saturday, the Supreme Court raised an alarm over the polluted air of Delhi and asked the Centre and the Delhi government to notify by Monday if 'emergency measures' like 'lockdown for two days' or 'stopping vehicles' should be applied to immediately control the worsening condition. Otherwise, how will people survive? Chief Justice N V Ramana, heading a three-judge bench, told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta while hearing a plea against air pollution.
The Chief Justice of India also took exception as soon as the SG started explaining that stubble burning is also a part of the problem, thinking of all the responsibility being thrown on farmers whereas on the same hand factors like crackers and vehicular pollution are also responsible.
The Chief Justice of India asked Mehta, “Are you saying farmers are the only ones responsible?
Where is the effective mechanism to control firecrackers, vehicle pollution.” As the latter described the “in-situ” and “ex-situ” steps adopted to handle the crop burning.
In response, SG mentioned that he had just started and was coming to the other issues as well. Not even a remote intention of suggesting farmers are responsible.
Justice Chandrachud said that as far as farmers are concerned, the problem is not of enforcement, but of incentivisation. He asked why they would continue crop burning if they were to get some incentive from stopping it.
Responding to Mehta’s submission that the government was making available around 2 lakh machines through custom hiring centres in cooperative setup for crop residue management, Justice Surya Kant said the problem is that machines are not affordable to farmers. Mehta said marginal farmers were given it for free of cost.
The CJI mentioned that the court is not raising an issue to understand which state government was responsible, but to find out the solution to control the situation immediately.
Justice Chandrachud sought to know what would be the total capital cost required for the machines and the total paddy acreage of states which are contributing to the crop burning. About the ex-situ management under which crop residue is used for producing biomass as fuel in thermal plants, he asked who collects the crop residue from the farmer. “Between the thermal power plant and the farmer, who are the ones ensuring that it is removed?” Mehta replied that there are agencies tasked with doing this.
Justice Chandrachud highlighted that monsoon was late this year and farmers are constrained to make the land ready for the next crop. Therefore, whatever mechanism are being created, the agencies must reach out to the farmer within those many days.
Justice Chandrachud highlighted the issue for school children by mentioning, “Look at the seriousness of the proble, schools are open and little children are out on the roads at 7 in the morning.”
The CJI said AQI levels are going to increase in a few days and asked the SG to take emergency steps by mentioning “you will have to look into the issue beyond the politics of governments” Mehta repeated, “I never said farmers are responsible,” adding, “I wanted to say there are other reasons also.”
“First control Delhi. Then we will see others. Call a meeting. Take a decision. We want something to happen, so (in) 2-3 days we’re in a position to feel better.” Mehta said an emergency meeting has been scheduled later in the day.
The CJI then sought to know what the Centre’s assessment of the situation was. The SG replied that the “report is we have to consider the wind direction from north-west…there has been some spurt in crop burning in the last 5 days, Delhi air remaining static. Till 18th we will have to be very very watchful to ensure we don’t go from very severe to further deterioration”.
The CJI too pointed out, “We read in the news that crop burning has increased in large amounts” and asked, “why don’t you ask states of Punjab, Haryana, etc to hold stubble burning at least for a few days?” The SG pointed out that meetings had been held with the chief secretaries. “Colour of political parties does not matter. It’s a joint responsibility,” he said, adding all states were on board and were fighting their own battles to rein in the situation. Mehta said “Every state is cooperating. They are on board. Today (there is) a little larger meeting to focus on emergency response,”
As senior advocate Rahul Mehra began submissions, Justice Surya Kanta said, “It has become a fashion to bash farmers now. In Delhi there was a ban imposed on firecrackers… What is Delhi Police doing… there are multiple steps that are to be taken immediately.”
Justice Chandrachud asked, “You have opened schools, children are exposed to pollution. Have you responded to the situation? This does not fall in the Centre’s jurisdiction. Has Delhi done something?”