“Can’t Happen in Civilised Country”: SC on Air Pollution in Delhi

People are losing precious years of their lives due to pollution, the Supreme Court said on Monday as Delhi and nearby areas face a public health emergency due to severe air pollution. The top court pulled up the centre and the Delhi government, saying “there is passing of buck” and that it “can’t happen in a civilised country”.

The Supreme Court took up a report by the Environment Pollution Control Authority or EPCA, on the pollution caused by stubble-burning. The pollution control body had asked that states in the National Capital Region be asked to stop burning of waste, toxic emissions from industries and dust from construction sites.

“Can we survive in this atmosphere? This is not the way we can survive. No one is safe even inside homes; it is atrocious,” a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra said.

Taking note of crop burning in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, the Supreme Court asked the centre to call environmental experts, including those from IIT (Indian Institutes of Technology), to the court within 30 minutes. “Things are happening every year under our nose. People are being advised to not come to Delhi or to leave Delhi.State governments are responsible. People are dying in their state and neighbouring states. We will not tolerate this. We are making a mockery of everything,” the top court said.

“Delhi is choking every year and we are not able to do anything. Question is that every year this is happening,” the bench said, adding, “People are dying and it can’t happen in a civilised country”.

The EPCA in its report has among other things sought directions to NCR states to take steps to stop burning of waste, toxic emissions from industries and dust from construction sites.

In its report, which was considered by the top court, the EPCA has said that though Delhi has been able improve annual air pollution load on the city from 2010 till now, the “city still needs to reduce pollution levels by 65 per cent to meet the national air quality standards”.

Senior advocate Aparajita Singh, who is assisting the court as an amicus curiae, said that as per the centre’s affidavit, crop burning has gone up by 7 per cent in Punjab and gone down by 17 per cent in Haryana.

The odd-even rule that restricts the use of private vehicles on Delhi’s roads – an attempt to combat the deadly pollution shrouding the capital – kicked in on Monday morning. Pollution levels in the city dropped marginally in the morning due to a slight increase in wind speed, but the air quality remained in the ”severe” category.