Implement panel’s anti-pollution measures, SC tells Centre, Delhi Govt.

Bench approves measure taken by the Centre's Air Quality Commission to create an ‘Enforcement Task Force’ and flying squads to prevent and penalise polluters in Delhi NCR.

Updated - December 03, 2021 07:16 pm IST

Published - December 03, 2021 12:51 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

Traffic moves on a smoggy weather as the air quality remains in severe category on the Ring Road in New Delhi on December 3, 2021.

Traffic moves on a smoggy weather as the air quality remains in severe category on the Ring Road in New Delhi on December 3, 2021.

The Supreme Court on Friday approved the measure taken by the Centre's Air Quality Commission to create an ‘Enforcement Task Force’ and flying squads to prevent and penalise polluters in Delhi NCR.

Appearing before a Bench led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Centre, said the task force was formed on December 2.

Mr. Mehta, reading out from an affidavit filed by the commission in court, informed the court that 17 flying squads were formed on Thursday and would be increased to 40 in the next 24 hours.

The flying squads have already conducted 25 surprise checks since December 2.

Also read: Air pollution: Delhi schools closed till further orders; board exams, online classes to continue

These squads would directly report to the task force.

“The task force has two independent members. It will meet at 6 p.m. everyday. The task force will take action on behalf of the commission against violators,” the Solicitor General submitted.

Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, on the Bench, asked whether the flying squads would be confined to Delhi or the National Capital Region (NCR) too.

“The NCR... It is therefore that their number would be increased to 40 squads. This is to cover the entire NCR,” Mr. Mehta clarified.

Also read: Flying squads created to curb pollution in Delhi, Centre’s panel informs SC

The court directed the Centre and the Delhi Government to implement the anti-pollution measures introduced by the commission.

The affidavit said industrial operations in NCR where gas was not available and not running on PNG or clean fuel would be allowed to operate for eight hours during weekdays and remain closed in weekends.

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, for petitioner, suggested harnessing solar or electrical energy to power the plants.

When Uttar Pradesh objected to the eight-hour work day, saying the sugarcane farmers would be hit at the peak of the ongoing crushing season, the court asked the State to approach the commission.

Mr. Mehta, referring to the commission's affidavit, said thermal plants within 300 km radius of Delhi would continue to be regulated. Only five of 11 plants were functional. The rest would remain closed till December 15.

At this, Justice Chandrachud suggested that the Government should consider shifting these plants to alternative fuel for the long term.

Work on hospitals

The court permitted Delhi to continue its work on the building of seven hospitals devoted to COVID-19 treatment in the Capital, provided they meet the directions of the Air Quality Commission.

“They offer excellent facilities. Several of them have been refurbished and re-done,” senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, for Delhi, submitted.

The Centre also supported Delhi Government's request to continue work on the hospitals subject to compliance with the commission's anti-pollution measures.

Mr. Singhvi informed the court that schools and colleges had been closed. The court had, in a hearing on December 2, expressed alarm at the sight of children going to school even as pollution remained high.

The Delhi Government said schools had stayed closed for 17 months. There were complaints of learning loss, Mr. Singhvi submitted.

At this point, the Bench referred to media reports wrongly portraying the court in bad light about the December 2 hearing.

Mr. Singhvi said certain sections of the media had portrayed it as if the court was trying to take over Government administration. In contrast, the atmosphere of the hearings was “convivial” with a concerted focus on getting rid of pollution.

Chief Justice Ramana said the Government had taken the decision to close the schools and subsequently open it too.

Mr. Mehta, light-heartedly, referred to Mark Twain saying “if you do not read the newspapers, you are un-informed. If you read the newspapers, you become ill-informed”.

Posted to Dec. 10

The court posted the case to December 10.

“We will keep this matter pending,” Chief Justice Ramana said.

The court, in a hearing on Thursday, had questioned the very purpose of having the Air Quality Commission with the pollution levels continuing to go up. It had given the Centre a 24-hour deadline to act.

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