The Supreme Court on Wednesday pointed to the plight of farmers, saying that no one was concerned what compels them to burn stubble, reported NDTV.
“People sleeping in five-star hotels in Delhi blame farmers,” the court said. “Look at such small land holdings of farmers. Can they afford the machines [to dispose stubble] you all talk about?”
The court was hearing a case on the air pollution in Delhi and the adjoining National Capital Region.
Delhi and its neighbouring areas have been shrouded in toxic smog since Diwali. Delhi’s pollution gets worse in October and November because of farmers burning stubble in neighbouring states, unfavourable wind speed and emission of fumes by the local traffic in the city. Firecrackers ignited for Diwali add to the problem.
But on Monday, the Centre told the Supreme Court that burning of farm waste accounted for just 10% of the emissions on an average through the year.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Delhi government and senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the petitioner in the case, argued that the Centre’s data was not correct.
“Stubble burning as reported in media and as I heard in court was 10% but it is certainly 50%, some directions are needed now for us to tackle this issue next year,” Singh said, according to Bar and Bench.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that the media had misconstrued his submission on data on stubble burning and made “irresponsible and nasty utterances” against him for misleading the court, reported Live Law.
Justice DY Chandrachud said that the court was not misled at all. “That day, I recollect, when I pointed out the figure of 4% [as mentioned in the Centre’s affidavit regarding stubble burning contribution], Mr Vikas Singh pointed out that in the annexure of the affidavit the figure is 35%,” he said. “We were not misled at all.”
As the blame game on stubble burning data continued, Chief Justice NV Ramana observed: “Debates on TV are causing more pollution than any other sources. Everyone has their own agenda there. We are trying to work out a solution here.”
In the last hearing on Monday, the Supreme Court had asked the Centre and Delhi government to consider work-from-home policy for at least a week. The court had also directed the Centre to hold a meeting with officials of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh on the matter.
Following the meeting on Tuesday, the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas had advised NCR state governments to follow a work-from-home policy, among other measures such as closing down schools and colleges.
On Wednesday, the Centre informed the Supreme Court of the guidelines issued by the air quality commission, including direction to authorities to ensure diesel vehicles that are over 10 years old and petrol vehicles over 15 years old do not ply on the road and that there is a complete ban on use of diesel generators, ANI reported.
Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the Delhi government, said that it has complied with 90% of what the air quality commission proposed to tackle air pollution.
The court then asked the Delhi government if it has bought new mechanised sweeping machines, reported Bar and Bench. To this, Singhvi said that 15 such machines have been ordered.
The court then enquired if Delhi could increase the number of buses that use compressed natural gas, or CNG, as fuel. The advocate pointed out that it was not clear if there are sufficient number of buses but said that the frequency of plying can be increased.
The court also asked Haryana and Punjab government on their response to stubble burning.
“Chief secretary and district magistrates are taking stock so no stubble burning happens in these two weeks,” the Haryana government submitted.
The court pointed to Punjab government’s affidavit and asked about stubble left.
“Farmers are at the mercy of the board,” the court said. “You have forced them [farmers] not to burn [stubble] but its not removed. The affidavit is completely silent on this aspect. By the time you purchase the machines [to dispose stubble], the season would be over.”
The counsel of Punjab government replied that it has purchased 76,000 machines. The counsel said that the figure of farm fires were misleading and claimed that it has decreased as compared to last year.
Meanwhile, Singh suggested that the Punjab government can send sprinklers to places where stubble burning takes place so that the fire is doused.
Mehta advised that implementing “harsher measures” can wait. He said that meteorological scientists had said that the wind flow would be favourable after November 21, improving the worsening pollution situation.
The court asked the states and the Centre to comply with the air commission guidelines.
“What I am observing as a judge and before it as a AG [attorney general] I have observed that bureaucracy has gone into inertia and they don’t want to do anything like using sprinklers or water buckets,” Ramana said. “We have to say [this]. This is the attitude of the executive.”
The matter has been posted for November 23 for further hearing.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Centre said that it would rather implement a vehicle pooling system for its employees than work from home as suggested by the Supreme Court to tackle air pollution, reported NDTV.
In a affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, the government said that it it will “not be [of] much benefit and effect”.
Soon after the Supreme Court hearing, the Union personnel ministry ordered all its employees posted in the NCR to use public transport as far as possible while going to offices, reported PTI.
Meanwhile, real-time data available on System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research, or Safar, at 12.30 pm on Wednesday showed that Delhi’s overall Air Quality Index at 363.
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’’.