The Supreme Court Monday directed the Centre to respond to issues related to construction activities including the Central Vista project under its domain besides asking Delhi and NCR states to file their replies to show compliance of directions issued by the commission on air quality management to curb pollution Observing that “intentions (of the Commission for Air Quality Management in the NCR and Adjoining Areas) are good and directions are given but the result is zero”, a special bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana said that forthwith compliance of directions of the panel by the states was needed and punitive measures like imposing a fine of Rs 1000 or ordering one day jail to violators are not going to work.
The bench, also comprising justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant was told by senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the petitioner, that construction activities for big projects like the Central Vista are going on in full swing and such a project cannot be “more important than the lives of citizens”.
Taking note of the submissions, the bench, in its order, said, “Mr. Vikas Singh has raised certain issues regarding construction activities in Delhi, we direct the Solicitor General to file an affidavit or get instructions about the areas which fall under the Central government domain”.
The bench perused the affidavit of the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change and referred to the long and short-term measures suggested by the commission on pollution and asked Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan to file affidavits by Wednesday evening about the compliance of the directions.
It also asked the Centre, Chairman of New Delhi Municipal Council, and others to file similar affidavits indicating the compliance of the directions given by the commission on pollution.
“We want to give an opportunity to the state governments to respond to the averments made in the affidavit (of the Centre) indicating what are the directions complied with and what are the directions which have not been complied with. If not complied with, then we direct them to comply with forthwith and file an affidavit before Wednesday evening so that we hear it on Thursday,” the bench said in its order.
At the outset, Singh said, “Larger projects are the main contributors to air pollution. Central Vista cannot be more important than the lives of the citizens of this country. This project is going on unabated. Today I also checked this. When this court has imposed the ban then how is this going on”.
Solicitor General, appearing for the Centre, said that he will be justifying the position.
As the senior lawyer for the petitioner kept pressing the alleged construction at the Central Vista project, the bench said that the Centre has been asked to apprise.
“The question is now we are struggling as to how to control the pollution and whether it is Central Vista or polluting industries or the states… Do you think that we do not know anything? We also know everything. The Centre is filing the response, states are filing…Don’t flag certain issues which ultimately lead to a situation where the main issue is diverted,” the bench observed.
The CJI referred to the AQI and said that it was 419, saying “There is another problem of the virus, how do we deal with it”.
“We can deal with the virus separately,” the law officer said.
The bench flagged the issue of late filing of the affidavit by the Centre saying “how do you expect us to read the affidavit. You gave the bunch of papers in the morning. Do they want judges not to read it?” “I am sure this is in a lighter vein. We worked till 2 am and submitted the affidavit,” replied the law officer.
The bench took note of the submissions of the law officer about the steps taken by the panel on pollution and said there was no use in “repeatedly looking into the directions issued by you (panel)”.
“This committee has been working since June and some of its directions have been complied with and some of them have been complied with partially…Now we are concerned about the states, we will ask the concerned states as to what they have to say,” it said.
“The second thing is about Delhi and in Delhi, in some areas, the Government of India is responsible and in some areas, the state government is responsible. You have to give us the details as to what you have complied and what you have not complied with,” the bench said.
Earlier on November 24, the Centre had said that stringent measures like banning the entry of trucks, except few exceptions, complete closure of all public and private educational institutions, and closure of five thermal power plants in the 300 km radius of the national capital are still in force to deal with the rising air pollution level.
The bench had taken note of worsening air quality and had re-imposed the ban on construction activities in Delhi and the national capital region (NCR) and directed the states to provide subsistence to workers from the funds collected as labour cess for the period during which such activities are prohibited.
It had also directed the Commission on Air Quality to ”commission a scientific study of air quality based on available data of previous years bearing upon recorded levels of air pollution”.