‘Act of God’ contributed to dip in Delhi pollution, but for how long, asks Supreme Court

SC says Govt. cannot wait to act till pollution reaches ‘emergency’ level

The credit for loosening the smog’s choke on Delhi in the past few days largely goes to the wind, an “‘act of God”, but the wind may die by the end of the day to leave the Capital again at the mercy of pollution, Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana told the Government on November 24.

“We are saved because of the wind,” the Chief Justice Ramana addressed Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Centre.

“It is what we call in law an ‘act of God,’” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud noted.

Mr. Mehta began by painting an optimistic air about the dip in the pollution levels from 403 points on November 16 to 280 on Wednesday.

“But the Meteorological Department says by evening things will become serious again. The wind speed now is two or three km, by evening it will become zero,” Chief Justice Ramana reacted.

Later in the hearing, the CJI said the court had checked again, and the pollution level had gone up to 381 points at a wind level of three km.

“I think there is no substantial change. It appears to be getting serious again.. You will have to take measures for another three days,” the Chief Justice told the Government.

The court clarified it had no intention to dispose of the case or stop monitoring the pollution graph. If necessary, it would hear the case “almost every day”, the Bench underscored.

Justice Chandrachud, who is part of the Special Bench comprising Justice Surya Kant, criticised how the Government waited for pollution to take a turn for the worse before scurrying to kick in pollution control measures.

Graded response

“This is the National Capital! Imagine the message you are sending across the globe… You take measures after waiting for the weather to become ‘severe plus’ or ‘emergency’. You should have a graded response ready and take measures in anticipation of the weather based on wind patterns…. Why should Delhiites suffer pollution that goes from ‘very poor’ to ‘emergency’?” Justice Chandrachud asked Mr. Mehta.

Justice Chandrachud said it could not be denied that the Government had indeed taken measures to fight pollution, but they were “very ad hoc”.

“Suddenly you start sprinkling water… That does not work. The Air Quality Commission has to conduct a scientific study. There should be a statistical model. Steps have to be taken consistent with the wind patterns. The measures have to be science-based,” Justice Chandrachud observed orally.

The judge asked whether there was an “acceptable level of pollution for Delhi through the year”.

“You have to model for the different seasons. You need to have a scientific model of analysis based on the causes of pollution, wind patterns. The Meteorological Department has the technology. It has data of wind patterns for the past 50 years,” Justice Chandrachud said.

Chief Justice Ramana said expectations were high because the Supreme Court was monitoring the efforts to control pollution.

“The major reason for reduction [in pollution] is the wind… to some extent it has contributed, Now, ultimately what is it you are going to do?” the CJI asked the Government.

‘Immediate steps taken’

Mr. Mehta responded that a graded response plan for Delhi and other States for the long-term was in place. He said immediate steps, meanwhile, had been taken. The closure of industrial and thermal power plants had been extended till November 30.

The Solicitor General said the ban on construction and demolition activities had, however, not been extended. But the ban would be re-imposed if the situation worsened. He briefed that educational institutions continued to remain closed and online classes were on. Mr. Mehta said the ban on entry of trucks, other than those carrying essential goods, had been extended by the Delhi Government till November 26. The law officer said “intense checks’ were on for petrol and diesel vehicles over 15 years old plying the roads and ₹ 2.35 crore had been collected as fine from violators. Buses had been arranged to ferry Central Government employees to reduce carbon print.

Senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, for Delhi, informed that work from home had been extended till November 26. Process was on to purchase 1,000 additional CNG buses for public transportation.

“Allowing construction… is it a Delhi Government order?” the CJI asked Mr. Mehta.

“No, it is our decision,” Mr. Mehta replied.

The Bench said the thousands of crores lying in the construction workers’ welfare fund with the States could be released to pay the labourers. It said interior works in buildings under construction, which did not throw up dust or leave debris, could be allowed.

The court said bureaucrats could go to the farmers, to their fields, and find a solution to stubble-burning.

“The Meteorological Department says the situation would improve. They can predict up to three days… It may fluctuate, but it will get better in the coming days,” Mr. Mehta assured.

The court urged the Government to continue with anti-pollution measures for another three days. It listed the case on Monday.

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