SC Asks Centre, NCR States to Implement Panel’s Order to Curb Air Pollution

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday directed the Centre and the states in NCR to implement the orders of the panel to curb pollution and sought a proposal to ensure switching over of all industrial units to PNG or cleaner fuel in a time-bound manner or face closure while ruing that some news reports tried to “portray it as a “villain” that wants to close down schools here. Observing that the instruments like PIL would not have been needed if the governments do everything on their own, a special bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana said it was not an adversarial litigation and it will not close the case and will keep monitoring the measures to be taken up by the states to curb the pollution.

The bench, which also comprised justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant, said, Every day, we cannot monitor this case. We have to allow them to work. We are monitoring and nudging the government along. It took note of the proposal of the Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas that industrial operations in NCR, where gas is not available and the industrial unit is not running on PNG or cleaner fuels, shall be allowed to operate only up to eight hours a day during weekdays and shall remain closed during Saturdays and Sundays. Let a proposal to switch over all the Industrial Units to PNG or cleaner fuels in a timebound manner, failing which such Units should be closed down, be also placed on record, it ordered while permitting the Delhi government to resume construction of seven COVID hospitals to counter possible third wave. We direct the GoI and GNCTD to implement the measures given in the order for the time being and we will accordingly keep the matter pending and list the matter next Friday, it said and also asked NCR states to pay minimum wages to construction workers from the cess, collected by them from real estate firms, as their work hit due to the ban. It took note of measures taken by the Commission and asked the Centre, Delhi, and states in the NCR to follow the directions.

A 5-member enforcement task force has been set up to contain air pollution in Delhi and NCR and 40 squads would monitor the implementation of measures suggested by it to deal with pollution, the panel said adding that 17 flying squads have been set up to ensure the implementation of various measures mandated by the court which would be raised to 40 within 24hours. Ban on entry of trucks, excluding those carrying essential goods and those running on cleaner fuel, will continue, it said. The bench referred to news reports and said a message “intentionally or unintentionally” was sent that the court is the “villain” and it is ordering the closure of schools.

One thing what we have observed is… I do not know whether it is intentional or unintentional, it seems some sections of the media and some people tried to project as if we are the villains who want to close down the schools. You (the Delhi government) had taken the decision on your own. You had said that you want to close down the offices and close the schools. You want to put the lockdown and everything and we have not given any orders. You see today’s newspapers, the CJI observed. Senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for the Delhi government, referred to a news report and said that one English newspaper reported that the apex court threatened to take over the administration.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta quoted Mark Twain: “If you do not read newspapers you are uninformed and if you read them then you are ill-informed.” Mehta said the flying squads will have independent members and they are authorised to take punitive action on behalf of the commission and have conducted surprise checks at 25 sites. Everything happened yesterday. This task force consists of two independent members and they will meet at 6 pm every day and the task force will be reporting to them. Any non-compliance, the task force will take action on behalf of the commission.

We have added one more stringent condition now that PNG industries. The industries, which were allowed to work on other fuels due to non-availability of PNG etc, would be permitted to operate for only eight hours a day and no working is permitted on Saturdays and Sundays, he said. The flying squads, which you have constituted today, will be confined to Delhi or also NCR, the bench asked Mehta who said these squads will cover the entire NCR.

Singhvi referred to the affidavit of the Delhi government and said from March 2020, the schools have been closed and then they remained open for a short while for 15-16 days in November when students came with the consent of their parents and now they are again closed. The CJI took note of the submissions and said some sections of the media and a few others have projected the court in poor light as if it was a villain and did not want education to continue.

You want to tell us that the schools were closed due to COVID and then they were opened and now we are asking you to close down. That is what you want to tell us, the bench told Singhvi, who said, the court must put the blame where it is. You have the medium, you can go and explain, condemn everything and you can do whatever you want but we cannot do all this. Where do we go? Where we have said that we are interested in taking up administration, the CJI said and added it cannot interfere with freedom of speech and expression of the press.

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