New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday (December 13) said crop residue burning, which affects air quality in the Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR), “must stop”, and underlined the need for judicial monitoring to ensure people do not face the same scenario every winter. Observing that farm fires were still significant, a bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia directed the state governments concerned to take steps to curb pollution.
The top court, which was hearing a matter related to crippling air pollution that has been choking Delhi-NCR during winter year after year, said,
Let us at least make an endeavour for the next winter to be little better.
The bench noted several meetings of the committee chaired by the Union cabinet secretary were held and it has prepared action plan for states, including Punjab and Haryana, to deal with the issue.
It said the states concerned have to implement the action plans and submit progress reports before the court within two months.
The bench said,
We direct the state governments to take steps in respect of the aforesaid and submit a progress report to this court within two months from today.
It added other authorities will also duly implement the action plans and submit reports in the court. Justice Kaul observed,
…possibly, this matter needs continuous monitoring. What happens is when the problem arises, we suddenly take it up. The court must monitor it for some time.
The counsel for Punjab said the state has filed an affidavit dated December 6 which also contains details about recovery of environmental compensation from those responsible for crop residue burning. The counsel had told the court at the last hearing on November 21 that environmental compensation totalling Rs 2 crore has been imposed on the offenders. The bench said,
The recovered amount is still only about 53 per cent (of the penalty imposed). Recoveries must be speeded up.
On claims that farm fire incidents between September 15 and November 30, 2023 have been fewer than before, the court said,
The point is, still farm fires are significant and this must stop.
The bench noted Attorney General R Venkataramani has submitted a note on Centre’s behalf on the steps to be taken to check farm fires and also placed the minutes of meetings of the committee chaired by the cabinet secretary.
There is something to be done by Punjab, something to be done by Haryana, something to be done by Delhi and something to be done by different ministries.
The bench also took up some other related matters like the one related to open waste burning in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.
One of the advocates raised the issue of vehicular pollution and said the air quality index (AQI) in the national capital was 376 this morning. Justice Kaul responded,
It is not going below 300.
AQI values above 100 are considered unhealthy.
The lawyer drew the court’s attention to a report published a couple of weeks ago which said vehicular pollution contributed significantly to the overall pollution in Delhi and one of the reasons for it was the quality of fuel available in the national Capital.
The bench said it cannot go into the aspect of quality of fuel unless there was some basis for that as the court cannot go by presumptions.
When the lawyer flagged the issue of colour-coded stickers for vehicles indicating the kind of fuel being used, the bench said it was the duty of all states to ensure laws were implemented without any caveat.
The committee of secretaries may call for a report from all the state governments about the progress made in implementation of this aspect of law to ensure that if there are any delinquent states, they comply with the same and that aspect be brought to the notice of this court.
On e-waste burning, senior advocate Aparajita Singh, assisting the court as an amicus curiae in the pollution matter, said both Delhi and Uttar Pradesh have filed affidavits indicating the steps they have taken to stop it.
Ms Singh said the top court may direct the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) to submit a report on the status of e-waste burning, measures that are in place to tackle it and what more can be done. The bench asked the CAQM to consider the issue so it does not aggravate pollution during winter.
The bench while posting the matter for hearing on February 27, said,
We do believe that there has to be some judicial monitoring to ensure that we are not again faced with the same scenario next winter. Thus, it may be appropriate to continue to list this matter periodically for judicial monitoring.
While hearing the matter last month, the top court had said the Centre and the states must “forget politics” and apply their minds to explore ways to stop it.
The top court is seized of a plea filed in 1985 on air pollution and the vexed issue of crop residue burning arose from it.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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