The National Green Tribunal on Monday tore into government agencies for their repeated failure to check ever-worsening air quality in Delhi, warning that the problem was severe and if not checked the results would be drastic.
"Right to life must take precedence over all commercial and infrastructure projects. We are pained to note that despite our repeated orders, the response lacks will and exhibits callous attitude of shifting responsibility. Our orders are to be executed as a decree of a civil court," the tribunal said, threatening to attach the properties of authorities and jail them in case of non-compliance.
The NGT said it was granting one last opportunity to the Delhi government and other agencies, including police, to show intent. This comes four months after the NGT ordered a slew of measures to clean up the air in Delhi. The fresh observation came after the central pollution control board submitted a report, showing all key pollutants peaking to alarming levels in Delhi.
The range reported for 24 hour average shows very high peak levels. PM2.5 that go deep inside our lungs has peaked up to 21 times higher than the permissible limit; NO2 which is harmful itself and also contribute towards formation of ozone has peaked up to 4.5 times higher than the standards.
"Data on peak levels of all pollutants indicate a deadly cocktail of toxic pollutants going up together. Peak levels indicate high level of exposure. This is the daily dose of toxins that people of Delhi are exposed to. This demands stringent action to reduce public health risk," said pollution control expert Anumita Roy Chowdhury.
The tribunal also cited a petition transferred to it by the Supreme Court that says the air quality in most cities would adversely affect human foetus, and toddlers may develop respiratory problems.
The tribunal also asked the Delhi government to explain why all diesel vehicles, which are more than 10 years of age, should not be banned in the capital. The tribunal also sought the exact number of such vehicles by April 7, when the matter would be heard next. In November, the NGT ordered 29 lakh of Delhi's 86 lakh vehicles older than 15 years off roads.
The tribunal has asked the chief secretary of Delhi to hold a meeting with officials of departments concerned and submit a status report. "Nobody can claim a right which will infringe upon or destroy the right to life. All institutions including law-makers, courts and governments must strive to pass on proper air quality if not improved to the next generation," the NGT said on Monday.