The Supreme Court on Friday directed the Centre to ensure that there is no smog in Delhi and National Capital Region amid heightened alarm over the health hazard posed by it during the coronavirus crisis, Bar and Bench reported.

Delhi’s air pollution typically worsens in October and November due to stubble burning in the neighbouring states and unfavourable wind speed. According to the Central Pollution Control Board, the air quality index was 397 at 2.15 pm, indicating “very poor” conditions in the Capital. According to the agency’s air quality index or AQI, any reading above 100 on the scale of 500 is progressively unsafe for health. Additionally, Delhi has been reporting over 6,000 new coronavirus cases for the last three days.

A three-judge bench headed by Justice SA Bobde asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to ensure that Delhi is not affected by smog and bad air quality. “There are already many commissions, many brains working but ensure that there is no smog in the city,” Bobde said. “Also grade offences. Every offence cannot have [punishment] of five years jail or Rs 1 crore fine.”

Mehta informed the court that the Centre’s Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas, constituted on October 28, will start functioning from Friday. Non-compliance with oversight body’s orders and provisions will attract a jail term of up to five years or a fine of Rs 1 crore or both. Former Chief Secretary of Delhi MM Kutty was appointed chairperson of the commission on Thursday, PTI reported.

The Centre had dissolved the 22-year-old Environmental Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority that has so far addressed matters related to air pollution in Delhi-NCR to constitute this body.

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, representing one of the petitioners, said the condition in Delhi was akin to “public health emergency” and said “drastic measures need to be taken” to tackle the air pollution.

Bobde told him the case will be taken up after Diwali and that the executive organ of the government is the body “with money and resources”.“We have certain limitations and we are not abdicating our responsibility,” the chief justice added. “Let solicitor general take steps.”

Singh argued that no members from the health ministry were part of the Centre’s commission, but the court said it will examine the matter after Diwali. He also said by the time court reopens after Diwali break, the situation will only deteriorate.

Other fulltime members of the Centre’s commission include Professor Mukesh Khare of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, Ramesh KJ, former director general of India Meteorological Department, and AK Nautiyal, a joint secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

Taking steps against pollution in north India: Javadekar

Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar on Friday said the Centre was taking steps to tackle air pollution in Delhi and other parts of north India ahead of the approaching winter season. The Union minister said he would take all possible technological interventions towards combating the air pollution problem.

Javadekar also announced that former Chief Secretary of Delhi MM Kutty would lead the Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and its adjoining areas. “He has also worked in the environment ministry earlier,” he said.

Other full-time members of the commission include former Director General India Meteorological Department Ramesh KJ and Mukesh Khare of Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. The Energy and Resources Institute Director General Dr Ajay Mathur and Air Pollution Action Group member Ashish Dhavan were also appointed as non-governmental organisation representatives of the commission.

“The commission would work alongside Delhi and other nearby states towards ending pollution,” the Union minister added.