"Hue and cry" over farmers' stubble burning is without any scientific and factual basis, the Supreme Court said on Monday, November 15, while noting that it contributes only 10% to air pollution in Delhi-NCR, and directed the Union government to call an emergency meeting on Tuesday, November 16 to tackle pollution. Pointing to construction, industry, transport, power and vehicular traffic as the major culprits in causing pollution, the apex court asked the Union government to take measures like stopping non-essential activities and implementing work from home.
"Even though some decisions were taken by the Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Act it has not indicated precisely what steps they are going to take to control factors that are causing air pollution," a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana said. "In view of that, we direct the government of India to call for an emergency meeting tomorrow and discuss the areas which we indicated and what orders they can pass to effectively control air pollution.
"As far as stubble burning is concerned, broadly affidavits state that their contribution is not so much except for two months. However, at present, a good amount of stubble burning is taking place in Haryana and Punjab," the bench said. It directed the Union government and the NCR states to examine introducing work from home for employees.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Union government, informed the bench about several measures contemplated in an emergency meeting held between the Secretaries of the Union Government, and Delhi, Punjab and Haryana. "We have come to the conclusion that stubble burning is not the major cause of pollution and it contributes to only 10% of the air pollution," Mehta said.
Reacting on his submission, the bench, also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant, said, "Are you agreeing that stubble burning is not the main cause? That hue and cry has no scientific or factual basis?"
Referring to the affidavit filed by the Union government, the apex court said 75% of the air pollution is due to three factors, industry, dust and transport. "In the last hearing (on Saturday), we mentioned stubble burning is not a major issue, city related issues are there. So if you take steps on them, the situation will improve", the bench said.
"In fact now the cat is out of the bag, the farmers' stubble burning contributes to only 4% of the pollution as per the chart. So we are targeting something which is totally insignificant," the bench said.
The top court also expressed displeasure over the earlier emergency meeting and said, "This is not the way we expected an executive emergency meeting to be held. It is unfortunate that we have to set the agenda. The sum and substance is construction, power, transport, dust and stubble burning are the issues. Ask the committee created and decide how to implement the action plan by tomorrow evening."
At the outset, senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the petitioners, submitted that he wanted to make some suggestions and submitted that construction should be regulated rather than being banned. He said the Union government was not willing to take strong measures in view of the upcoming assembly elections in Punjab. The Solicitor General opposed him saying, "My friend has a different agenda".
The apex court intervened and said, "You want to fight or you want to argue .We are not concerned with elections and politics." "Last day also we had clarified we are not concerned with politics, we only want pollution to come down..why bring up elections..We are in the middle of a crisis situation," the bench said.
Meanwhile, the Delhi government has informed the Supreme Court that it is ready to take steps like complete lockdown to control pollution if it is mandated for the entire NCR area. "GNCTD (Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi) is ready to take steps like complete lockdown to control the local emissions. However, such a step would be meaningful if it is implemented across the NCR areas in neighbouring states. Given Delhi's compact size, a lockdown would have limited impact on the air quality regime," the Delhi government said in an affidavit.