The Supreme Court on Monday ordered that stubble burning in Delhi’s neighbouring states Punjab and Haryana be stopped immediately, Bar and Bench reported. It said the entire police and administrative machinery in these states should ensure that no stubble burning takes place. The court said the state governments will be held responsible if it continued.

The top court tore into the central government, Delhi, and neighbouring states, saying it would not tolerate the situation arising out of air pollution in the National Capital Region, PTI reported. The court, which was hearing a plea on the matter, criticised the Centre and the Delhi government for not taking enough steps to curb pollution.

“Can we survive in this atmosphere?” asked a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra. “This is not the way we can survive. No one is safe even inside homes, it is atrocious.”

The bench ordered the chief secretaries of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana to be present in court on Wednesday to explain their inaction on curbing stubble burning. “Your states are also badly’s not just Delhi,” Mishra told the counsels for Punjab and Haryana. “Today the situation is grim. Burning is not the solution. What is the solution to stubble burning?”

Mishra said “this cannot happen in a civilised country”. The judge added: “Right to life is the most important... ‘We want to burn our crop and let others die’, we can’t live like this.”

“Farmers cannot kill others for their own livelihood,” Mishra observed. “We have no sympathy for farmers if they keep burning crop.”

The judge also said “this [situation in Delhi] is worse than Emergency”, Hindustan Times reported. “That Emergency [of 1975] was better than this emergency.”

The judge asked the Delhi government what it had achieved by implementing the odd-even scheme. “Diesel consumption is less and there is less pollution in Delhi,” the counsel for the Delhi government replied. “People will share vehicles.”

Dissatisfied with this explanation, Mishra asked the Aam Aadmi Party government to produce data or records by Friday to prove that the scheme had helped reduce air pollution in the capital, ANI reported. The court said more auto rickshaws and taxis would ply during the duration of the odd-even scheme, thus increasing pollution.

“You [Delhi] have only added some 100 buses to public transport,” the court observed. “People don’t even want to use metros. The metro to the Airport runs empty most of the time.”

The court also directed that no construction or demolition activity should take place in Delhi and the National Capital Region. It said the local administration will be held responsible if construction work continues.

The Supreme Court added that no power cuts should take place in Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to ensure that no diesel generators are used. It directed a high-powered committee of the states to meet on Monday and submit its report by Wednesday.

Air pollution in Delhi and surrounding towns reached the worst levels so far this year on Sunday. Authorities last week had declared a public health emergency, closed schools, and banned all construction activity.

Earlier in the day, the bench, furious at the government’s inadequate responses, put the hearing on hold and ordered the Centre to call environmental experts, including those from Indian Institute of Technology, to the court within 30 minutes.

“Delhi is choking every year and we are not able to do anything,” the court said, according to ANI. “Every year this is happening and this continues for 10 to 15 days, this is not done in civilised countries. Right to life is most important.”

The top court said the stubble burning in states of Punjab and Haryana cannot go unabated every year. The amicus curiae (friend of the court to assist it in the matter) told the top court that as per the Centre’s affidavit, crop burning has gone up by 7% in Punjab and gone down by 17% in Haryana.

“People are being advised not to come to Delhi due to pollution, state governments are responsible for this,” the court said.

The court observed that the state machinery was not taking appropriate steps to tackle the pollution. “They are passing the buck to each other...whether the Centre should do or Delhi should can’t go on like this,” it said. “It’s too much.”

Air pollution in Delhi and surrounding towns plummeted to the season’s worst level on Sunday. On Friday, authorities had declared a public health emergency, and closed schools and banned all construction activities till Tuesday.

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