The Supreme Court on Wednesday told the Centre that measures are being taken to curb air pollution in Delhi only when the situation becomes severe, reported ANI. It said that such measures need to be taken in anticipation of rising air pollution.

“This is the national capital, imagine the signal we are sending to the world,” the court observed.

A bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and Justices DY Chandrachud and Surya Kant 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 several factors such as unfavourable wind speed and emission of fumes by the local traffic in the city. Firecrackers ignited during Diwali add to the problem.

Farmers burning stubble in neighbouring states is also considered a factor in rising air pollution but the Centre had told the Supreme Court last week that burning of farm waste accounted for just 10% of the emissions on an average through the year.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, told the court that the Delhi’s Air Quality Index, or AQI, on Wednesday morning was 290, which is an improvement from the critical figure of 403 of last week, reported Live Law.

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’’.

Mehta said that the air quality of the national capital has been improving and due to this, the ban on construction activities has been lifted with effect from Monday. The solicitor general was informing the court about the decisions taken by the Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas in its meeting held on Sunday.

As Mehta was reading out the steps, Justice Chandrachud intervened to point out that these were all “ad hoc measures”.

“The commission has to do a scientific study by having statistical models,” he said. “You have the wind pattern for next seven days. You have to take measures consistent with the wind direction. What are the steps you need to take, and what will be impact of those steps for the next seven days? Somebody has to conduct that study. It must be science based”.

He said a statistical model was needed to allow taking anticipatory measures to control air pollution. To this, Mehta said the Centre would not wait for the air pollution level to turn severe.

Ramana pointed out that the AQI at that moment was 318, not 290. “There were a lot of expectations that the government will do something [to curb air pollution],” he said. “But major reason for reduction is wind.”

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for petitioner, told the court that according to a media report, farmers were not being fined for stubble burning in Punjab in view of the upcoming elections.

The court, however, said that it was not concerned with the matter and cannot micromanage such things.

On stubble burning, Ramana reiterated his earlier observation about apathy among bureaucrats to address the problem.

“We are using common sense to discuss the issues,” he said. “What is the central and state bureaucracy doing? Why can’t they go to the fields, talk to farmers and scientists and devise a permanent solution to prevent stubble burning.”

The court also directed the Centre, Delhi-NCR states and the air quality management commission to continue the measures it has taken to control air pollution for the next two to three days. It said that some restrictions can be lifted if the pollution level comes down to 100.

The court will now hear the matter on November 29.

Meanwhile, real-time data available on System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research, or Safar, at 12 pm on Wednesday showed that Delhi’s overall Air Quality Index at 328.