A terrible future awaits the children in Delhi, the country’s top green body warned on Friday, as it castigated the Centre and the AAP government for “shifting blame” and not taking proper steps to tackle the alarming air pollution levels in the national capital.
“For you (authorities), the people of Delhi do not matter but for us, they matter. We will do whatever we can,” a bench headed by National Green Tribunal (NGT) chairperson Swatanter Kumar said, adding: “Just look at what we are giving to our children for future. This is terrible”.
Terming the situation akin to that of an “emergency”, the tribunal observed that the Centre, Delhi government and other authorities were “not bothered” about the rising air pollution level --- dubbed as the worst in 17 years -- and its consequences on the health of citizens of Delhi.
Observing that “health is the only primary concern”, the bench was anguished that its order asking the Delhi government to stop the plying of diesel vehicles which were over 10 years old was not being implemented properly.
“All diesel vehicles which are more than 10 years old should be off the road,” it told the Delhi government.
When the bench asked the Delhi government what steps it has taken to stop the plying of diesel vehicles which were over 10 years old, the counsel said: “We are challaning such vehicles but we have no space for parking.”
To this, the NGT asked the counsel to move an application before it in this regard so that appropriate directions could be passed to the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to provide space for parking of seized vehicles.
In its order dictated in the courtroom, the bench said they had received various complaints regarding construction activities and materials lying uncovered in the open.
The bench was infuriated when neither the Centre nor the Delhi government was able to properly answer its queries regarding the steps needed to be taken to tackle the issue, which were supposed to have been discussed at a meeting on Thursday in which Delhi’s chief secretary and members of the Central Pollution Control Board and the ministry of environment and forest, among others, were present.
“What name we are giving to our Capital in the world? It is very bad,” the green panel said.
“We understand there is a conflict of administration between the civic agencies, Delhi government and the Centre. But you can tell us who is not doing his work. It’s unfair to people of Delhi. In everything, the authorities are just throwing off their hands. We have to do something. You cannot say that time will do it.”
The Delhi government told the bench that the rise in air pollution was due to the burning of crop residues in the neighbouring states of Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan.
However, the bench said: “It’s not just the crop burning. There is no crop burning in Delhi. According to you, crop burning is in Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan but nowadays there is no wind, so the smoke can’t come here from these states.”
It also issued notices to the secretaries of environment and urban development of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan and directed them to remain present before it on the next date of hearing on November 8.
The NGT also asked the authorities to look into three other aspects of air pollution emanating out of dust, burning of plastic, waste and uncovered construction material lying in the open and vehicular pollution.
“There are three other sources of air pollution. Why do you not take steps? You know hillocks of waste is being burnt every day at the landfill sites. This itself is enough to kill people of Delhi. Why don’t you fix the responsibility of the officers and take action against them,” the bench said.
The bench wanted to know about the preventive steps which were discussed during Thursday’s meeting held in pursuance to its order.
Additional solicitor general (ASG) Pinky Anand, who was appearing for the Centre, told the tribunal that as per the order, the chief secretary of Delhi was to convene the meeting.
To this, the bench said: “Central government is living in Delhi too. You can’t say you are not concerned with air pollution. Yesterday, we had passed directions to authorities concerned to have a meeting with the chief secretary of Delhi government along with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and other authorities”.
“What happened in the meeting? Who will tell us? We are asking this, but still there are no answers,” the bench said, adding, “regarding health (of the people), nobody is bothered. On air pollution, nobody’s bothered. The authorities are shifting the blame on each other. It is very bad”.
The ASG, however, told the green panel that there was no question of shifting the blame and they will file a status report detailing the preventive steps to be taken to tackle air pollution.
The ASG also assured the bench that she would ensure that immediate steps are taken to curb uncontrolled air pollution.
However, the counsel appearing for the Delhi government said two meetings were convened on Thursday to discuss the issue of air pollution in the national capital.
Referring to Nasa images, the counsel said the burning of crops and agricultural residues was the main reason for the rise in air pollution.
The lawyer said he would file the minutes of meetings and a status report before the next date of hearing.
“Waste burning, particularly plastic, is quite rampant and is causing serious air pollution,” it said.
The NGT asked civic bodies to ensure that construction materials are not kept on the roads and directions passed by it earlier on this be implemented strictly.
“The authorities should take a conscious decision on how to deal with the issue. You people should make an effort,” it said.
At the fag end of the hearing, the tribunal also quizzed advocate Balendu Shekhar, appearing for the eastern Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC), about the status of air pollution and violation of construction norms in the area.
The green panel was hearing a matter in which the issue pertaining to worsening air quality of Delhi has been raised.
On Thursday, while hearing a separate petition on dengue and chikungunya menace in the capital, the Delhi government had claimed that dengue cases had declined due to stoppage of mosquito breeding caused by rising air pollution.
The bench had then directed the chief secretary of Delhi to hold a meeting and file a status report explaining the preventive steps they have taken to tackle alarming air pollution and smog level.