Supreme Court ‘not satisfied’ with work of air quality commission so far

As the Supreme Court is monitoring air pollution in Delhi caused by stubble burning and other reasons, a bench headed by CJI Bobde sought to know the work done by the commission till date.
The increase in stubble burning incidents notwithstanding, Delhi’s air has witnessed significant improvement compared to the past few years.(HT File Photo)
The increase in stubble burning incidents notwithstanding, Delhi’s air has witnessed significant improvement compared to the past few years.(HT File Photo)
Updated on Dec 18, 2020 05:50 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByAbraham Thomas, New Delhi

The Supreme Court on Thursday said it was not satisfied by the work done by the commission for air quality management, constituted on November 5 under an ordinance promulgated in October, until now.

The bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde and justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian said, “We are not satisfied.”

So far, the commission said, it has been working on developing technology for emergency response and has involved several experts from the fields of engineering, meteorological department, advanced computing and environmental engineering.

This is the first major decision taken by the commission. As the Supreme Court is monitoring air pollution in Delhi caused by stubble burning and other reasons, a bench headed by CJI Bobde sought to know the work done by the commission till date.

Submitting an affidavit filed jointly by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) before the court, additional solicitor general (ASG) Aishwarya Bhati said, “The commission has started working in the right earnest.”

The affidavit disclosed the new technology sought to be developed by the commission.

“The commission is developing a Decision Support System (DSS) for an air quality emergency response activities involving resource persons from scientific institutions,” the affidavit said.

These institutions include Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi (IIT-D), Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM-Pune), National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), The Energy and Resources Institution (TERI), and Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC).

Regarding the steps the commission took to mitigate air pollution affecting Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR), the commission said it had held a slew of review meetings with various agencies, governments of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and National Capital Territory of Delhi. In its first meeting held on November 10, five days after being constituted, the commission delegated the task of operationalising and monitoring the Graded Response Action Plan (Grap) to CPCB till a mechanism is devised by the 18-member committee.

Regarding the issue of stubble burning, the commission said that 50 teams have been deployed by CPCB to review the ground scenario. According to data furnished by the committee, the number of active farm fires in Punjab was 44% higher this year (September 21-November 25) with 76,590 stubble fires, compared to the same period last year when 52,991 fires were spotted by Punjab Remote Sensing Centre. Farm fires in Haryana saw a decline of 25% compared to last year. This year, the state reported 5,000 stubble burning incidents compared to 6,652 last year.

The increase in stubble burning incidents notwithstanding, Delhi’s air has witnessed significant improvement compared to the past few years. The commission relied on the ambient air quality standards to show that in 2019, Delhi had 121 days and 63 days of ambient air quality for PM 2.5 and PM 10 levels. In 2018, the corresponding figures were 98 days and 48 days.

The court was hearing a PIL filed by two environment activists, including Aditya Dubey. Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the petitioners responded, “The stubble burning problem is over for this year but some concrete steps must be taken by the commission.”

The court will examine the issue again in the second week of January.

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