At the outset of the hearing as solicitor general Tushar Mehta pointed to the impact of stubble burning on air pollution in Delhi
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Saturday directed the Central government to take steps on a war-footing to ensure that the alarming air-pollution in the national capital, heading towards emergency levels, is brought down to breathable level from the prevailing 500-plus points to 200 points while cautioning it to refrain from giving political colour to the issue and blaming stubble burning by farmers for the aggravation in the situation.
At the outset of the hearing as solicitor general Tushar Mehta pointed to the impact of stubble burning on air pollution in Delhi and said that Punjab needs to buckle up, Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, heading a bench also comprising Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Surya Kant, said, “Your contention is that (stubble burning) by the farmers is responsible for pollution in Delhi. Where is the mechanism to curb pollution due to the bursting of the firecrackers, vehicle emission and other factors?”
Noting other factors that contribute to the pollution in the national capital, Justice Surya Kant pointed out that they have “restricted the bursting of crackers but what was happening in the last seven to eight days. What are the police doing?”
“We want something to happen and things should improve in two to three days. Call a meeting, take emergency measures to reduce the pollution level. You have to deal with the issue beyond politics and the state governments,” Chief Justice Ramana told Mr Mehta and suggested that as a measure some vehicles could be kept off the road, a reminder of the odd-even scheme that was introduced in 2018 and 2019 to bring down the alarming rise in pollution.
“What steps can be taken so that pollution comes down from 500 points to 200 points,” the court said pointing to the emergency situation and added that the meeting scheduled later in the day on the issue should include chief secretaries of Punjab and Haryana.
On the gravity of the situation, CJI Ramana said, “We have been forced to wear masks at home also, the situation is very serious” and suggested if Punjab and Haryana could be asked to prohibit stubble burning for two to three days.
Feeling the heat of the court’s observations, Mr Mehta in a clarification said that “We are not suggesting farmers that the farmers are responsible for pollution” and there was no question of giving a political colour to the issue of pollution.
“The colour of the political party (in power) does not matter and should not matter but the implementation (of the steps to curb pollution) has to be at the State level,” Mr Mehta assured the court and said that the Centre was not looking at the issue with a jaundiced eye.
Besides the Centre, the Kejriwal government too came for a drubbing with Justice Chandrachud questioning the opening of schools and “exposing the lungs and lives” of “little children” to air pollution which is on the verge of entering emergency levels. He referred to All India Institute of Medical Sciences director Dr Randeep Guleria saying that first it was Covid, then dengue and now pollution and the schools have been opened.
The solicitor general was grilled by the court when he told the judges about the bio decomposer machine developed by Indian Council for Agricultural Research, popularly known as Pusa Institute. He said that over two lakh such machines are available and can mix stubble with soil which in turn would act as a soil nutrient. He said that the machine is available to the farmers at a subsidised rate.
Justice Chandrachud sought the total capital cost of the machine in four districts in Punjab and Haryana.
Identifying himself and Chief Justice Ramana as people with rural roots, Justice Kant said that the farmers in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh are poor and can’t purchase machines. "The land holding is not more than three acres,” he said.
On Mr Mehta’s submission that stubble can be used for fuel in boilers, thermal power plants (11 thermal power plants have been asked to use stubble as fuel), extraction of oil and fodder for goat and sheep in Rajasthan, the court said that where is a machinery at the ground level to implement it.
On the availability of apparatus to collect stubble on the ground and referring to the late monsoon this year, Justice Chandrachud said that the farmer has a narrow window of 15 days to harvest paddy, remove stubble, plough the fields and sow wheat. He said that the policy framework that has been put in place has to be matched with machinery on the ground to assist the farmers.
Assuring the court that the government will come back with a response to every question, Mr Mehta sought adjournment and the posting of the matter for hearing on Monday (November 15), which the court agreed.