The Supreme Court on Friday allowed the Delhi government to resume construction work of hospitals, Live Law reported. The court was hearing a petition seeking emergency steps to control the worsening air pollution situation in Delhi and adjoining areas.

On November 25, the court had re-imposed the ban on construction activities in Delhi and the National Capital Region in view of air pollution. The Commission for Air Quality Management had lifted the ban on November 22 as the pollution levels in the region had slightly reduced.

At Friday’s hearing, the court, however, said that the permission to carry on construction of hopsitals was subject to the directions of the Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region.

The matter will be heard next on December 10.

Delhi and its neighbouring areas have been grappling with poor air quality since Diwali, forcing schools to shut down and offices to allow employees to work from home.

The court had on Thursday given a 24-hour ultimatum to the Centre and governments in Delhi and adjoining states to take steps for curbing pollution levels.

Centre forms task force, flying squads

In an affidavit filed on Thursday, the Centre told the Supreme Court that it had constituted a five-member enforcement task force to ensure that pollution control measures are not being violated. The affidavit also stated that 17 flying squads had been mobilised to ensure the implementation of various measures ordered by the court and the air quality panel, Bar and Bench reported.

The flying squads will report to the task force, which will take punitive action against persons or organisations that do not comply with the regulations.

Further, only five out of 11 thermal power plants within a radius of 300 kilometres of Delhi will be permitted to run till December 15, it said.

During the hearing, senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government, told the court that polluted air was mostly coming from Pakistan, Live Law reported.

“So you want to ban industries in Pakistan?” Chief Justice of India NV Ramana asked in response.

Closure of schools

The Centre added in its affidavit that all schools and colleges in the National Capital Region will stay closed till further orders. It said that only online classes will be allowed, except for examinations.

The Delhi government on Thursday announced that all schools in the Capital will be shut from Friday till further orders on account of high pollution levels. This was after the Supreme Court remarked earlier on Thursday that three-year-old and four-year-old children were going to schools, while adults were working from home.

The Haryana government too ordered closure of schools in Gurugram, Faridabad, Sonipat, and Jhajjar districts because of the deteriorating air quality in the National Capital Region, PTI reported. It has also banned construction work in all 14 districts of the state, but has permitted “non-polluting activities” such as plumbing, interior decoration, electrical work and carpentry.

The bench headed by Chief Justice Ramana said on Friday that some sections of the media portrayed the court as the “villains who want to close down the schools”, according to Bar and Bench.

Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the Delhi government, said that this was his complaint as well. “You must put the blame where it is,” he said.

“Mark Twain had said if you don’t read newspapers, you are uninformed, and you if you read them, then you are ill-informed,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said.