Supreme Court warns Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to end the fires
In a bid to save Delhi from the choking air pollution, the Supreme Court on Monday said it would hold the entire State administrative and police mechanism of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, from the Chief Secretary to the sarpanch to the local policeman, responsible if even one instance of stubble burning occurred in future.
“There cannot be a mass exodus from Delhi... People have to live in Delhi, which is the national capital. People cannot be just evacuated from here… No room inside a house is safe in Delhi. Even inside the house, it is polluted. Can we survive like this? How long can we survive on air purifiers? We are losing precious years of our lives… It is writ large that various State governments, civic bodies have failed to discharge their liabilities. It is time to fix liability… This is a shocking state of affairs,” an exasperated Bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta said.
“Who is responsible for stubble burning? State governments are responsible! They are only interested in electioneering. They have to be made liable in tort. We are making a mockery of everything,” a visibly anguished Justice Mishra said.
“We will haul up the State administration from bottom to top. People are dying, this just cannot happen in a civilized country. The sad thing in this country is that people in power are only interested in gimmicks…” he stated.
The judge addressed to counsel for Punjab and Haryana governments, “every year stubble burning is happening? If you people were responsible, this would not have happened. Today the situation is grim”.
The court said any instance of stubble burning from now on would be penalized. It made the local and civic bodies as “personally responsible” as the errant farmer who puts fire to his crop residue. The dense smoke from the fires traveled to Delhi and hovered over the national capital. It had been identified as a major pollutant.
The court ordered the Chief Secretaries of the three neighboring States of Delhi to be present in court on Wednesday to explain why the governments and civic bodies should not be punished under tort law and be made to pay a hefty penalty for stubble fires seen so far this season. The court said the ‘Polluter Pays Principle’ does apply to the State and the local bodies.
The court ordered the respective high-level committees of the three States to meet on the issue of extinguishing the existing stubble fires and report back to the court on November 6.
In a hearing that went on for almost the whole day, the Bench summoned experts from the Indian Institute of Technology and the Joint Secretary of the Union Ministry of Environment to conduct an open court brainstorming session on how to “forthwith” reduce pollution choking Delhi.
Slew of directions
The court passed a slew of directions meant to immediately reduce pollution in the Delhi National Capital Region (NCR). The immediate measures to control pollution include a ban on construction and demolition activities. Any violation would cost Rs. 1 lakh in fine. The Bench further banned the burning of garbage in open dumps. Non-compliance would mean would Rs. 5000 in penalty.
The court also banned the use of diesel generators in Delhi NCR for the time being. It said any industry in Delhi NCR found to use coal as fuel, despite the ban by Supreme Court, would be hauled up for contempt of court.
“This kind of pollution cannot happen in a civilized country? Is this how we live? State machinery is not doing anything… The Centre and the States are passing the buck from one to another. Delhi is choking and you are not doing anything,” Justice Mishra said.