Stubble burning is not a major cause of air pollution in Delhi, the Centre told the Supreme Court on Monday, Live Law reported. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the central government, said that burning of farm waste accounted for just 10% of the emissions on an average through the year.

After the government’s submission, a bench led by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and Surya Kant said that the “hue and cry” about stubble burning was without any factual basis.

“In fact now the cat is out of the bag, the farmers stubble burning contributes to 4% of the pollution as per the chart,” said Justice Chandrachud. “So we are targeting something which is totally insignificant.”

The court said 75% of the pollution was due to three factors: industry, dust and transport. “So if you take steps on them, situation will improve,” the chief justice said.

The bench was hearing the Delhi government’s affidavit on the suggested measures to combat the air pollution in the city.

At Monday’s hearing, the Supreme Court also told the Centre and the Delhi government to consider asking their staff living in the national Capital to work from their homes in view of the high levels of pollution in the city, NDTV reported.

The court asked state governments to persuade farmers not to burn crop residues for a week.

“Broadly all affidavits indicate that stubble burning does not cause much pollution but even then, good amount is taking place in Haryana and Punjab,” the court said, according to Bar and Bench.

The court also directed the Centre to hold a meeting within 24 hours with Punjab, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh governments to come up with urgent measures and ways to implement them, reported The Hindu.

The Delhi government told the Supreme Court that it was ready to impose a complete lockdown to combat the air pollution, but added that the measure will have a limited impact because of the national capital’s compact size, reported NDTV.

On Saturday, the Supreme Court had asked the Centre to take emergency measures and even suggested Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to impose a two-day lockdown.

In its affidavit before the court on Monday, the Delhi government said a lockdown was needed in neighbouring areas of Delhi too.

“We are ready to consider this step if the same is mandated for the entire NCR [National Capital Region] areas by the Government of India or by the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and adjoining areas,” read the affidavit, according to NDTV.

Solicitor General Mehta informed the court about the various steps that the government has suggested. “We have suggested doubling parking tickets, so those who travel for no reason will avoid,” he said, according to Live Law. “If the air quality goes to very poor, stop using diesel generators. Increase bus and metro services.”

He added that the Centre has also suggested that the Badarpur power plant be halted. “We have not suggested it shutting down but maximising power from other plants,” said Mehta.

He also suggested that the frequency of mechanised cleaning of roads be increased and ensure that water is sprinkled more frequently. “Stop use of coal or firewoods in hotels or eateries,” Mehta said as read out the affidavit. “Stringently enforce and stop garbage burning.”

When the Delhi government told the court that “some steps will have to be taken” by civic bodies too, the court reprimanded the government for trying to pass the buck. “These kinds of lame excuses will force us to hold a proper audit of the revenues you are earning and spending on popularity slogans,” said Justice Surya Kant.

Justice Kant pointed out that the measures listed in the affidavit could be a long-term plan. “Tell us what are the drastic measures that can be taken,” he asked the solicitor general.

To this, Mehta said the government was open to drastic measures. “Three more drastic steps we have thought of which haven’t been implemented are: First is odd even scheme. Then, truck entry ban to Delhi and severest would be lockdown,” he added.

Justice Chandrachud asked the government to inform the court by Wednesday what concrete measures it can take to bring about a change in the situation.

“Whatever more can be done will be done, Delhi has done its best,” Mehta said. “Punjab has done its best.”

After the Supreme Court hearing on Saturday, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced that schools in the city will be closed for physical classes for a week from Monday due to the worsening air pollution. From Sunday to Wednesday, no construction activity will be allowed in the city. Employees of government offices will also work from home for a week starting Monday.

Delhi’s air quality ‘very poor’

Delhi’s air quality remained in the “very poor” category on Monday. The capital recorded a 24-hour average air quality index of 331 on Monday as against 381 on Sunday.

An AQI between zero and 50 is considered “good’’, 51 and 100 “satisfactory’’, 101 and 200 “moderate’’, 201 and 300 “poor’’, 301 and 400 “very poor’’, and 401 and 500 “severe’’.

Officials said that the air quality is not likely to improve over the next three days, PTI reported.

“Calm local winds also reduce dispersion of pollutants,” officials from the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research said. “So the air quality is expected to remain in the higher end of the very poor category tomorrow.”

The air quality in Delhi and surrounding areas like Gurugram, Noida and Ghaziabad dropped sharply in November after residents defied a ban on firecrackers.

Delhi’s pollution gets worse in October and November also because of farmers burning stubble in neighbouring states, unfavourable wind speed and emission of fumes by the local traffic in the city.