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Are you waiting for pollution to kill people: SC raps CPCB for no plan

The Supreme Court asked the CPCB to prepare a detailed plan in consultation with government, specifying measures to be taken and authority responsible for implementing those recommendations in a time bound manner to deal with the alarming pollution levels.

india Updated: Nov 10, 2016 20:37 IST
CPCB,Pollution-related deaths,Pollution
The Supreme Court asked the CPCB to prepare a detailed plan in consultation with government, specifying measures to be taken and authority responsible for implementing those recommendations in a time bound manner to deal with the alarming pollution levels.(Sakib Ai/HT Photo)

“Do you want to wait till people start dying ... people are gasping for breath,” a fuming Supreme Court asked the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) on Thursday, slamming it for not having an action plan ready to deal with the “emergency” smog situation, and asking the Centre to come out with time-bound measures to tackle the graded level of worsening air quality.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur pulled up the apex pollution monitoring body for “sluggish” response on the issue even as solicitor general Ranjit Kumar blamed the implementing agencies for not being able to do what they were required to do to deal with the situation.

“Do you (CPCB) want to wait till people start dying? The response cannot be sluggish. People are gasping for breath. People are in such a situation and you are waiting,” the bench also comprising Justices A K Sikri and S A Bobde said.

“You must have plans. How will you have spread of stations (to monitor air quality) that will clear the picture? You need to immediately plan as to how many stations will be reasonable, looking into the importance of the situation. You must prepare a plan and tell us,” the bench told CPCB chairperson S P Singh Parihar who was present in the court.

“We want you to take into consideration all the different inputs which are coming and draw a plan where you can have a proper system, a proper centralised control room, a graded level of air quality and also the response to it. You have to evolve a concensus. You must not allow the things to go out of your hands,” the bench said.

The bench passed a slew of directions including a meeting of all stakeholders with CPCB chairperson to be held on November 19 before which they will send their suggestions through e-mail to Parihar who will give personal hearing.

Observing that CPCB does not appear to have any “definite plan” to deal with the issue, the bench said the board, in consultation with government, will prepare a detailed plan specifying what measures have to be taken and which authority will be responsible for implementing those recommendations in a time bound manner to deal with the issue.

The bench said the “emergency plan” will also comprise the measures needed to tackle graded level of pollution and identify how many central pollution control units are required to have a clear picture of the air quality.

During the hearing, the CPCB chairperson told the bench that they have three air monitoring stations at Dwarka, Dilshad Garden and Shadipur Depot in Delhi, while Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) and Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) had four such stations each.

At the outset, the solicitor general (SG) told the bench that “all laws and regulations were at place but the implementing agencies were not able to do what they are required to do” to deal with the situation.

However, the bench asked the SG, “is there any centralised control room which monitors the air pollution level? Who is monitoring it? Who is its incharge? What kind of machines are there to check the air quality?”

To this, the SG placed before the bench a report of air quality index and said the CPCB chairperson was present in the courtroom.

The bench then asked the CPCB chairperson about it and he responded saying the board was continuously monitoring the air quality and pollution level through its three stations here.

The bench shot back and said, “Why you have confined it to three stations only? Why not more?”

Parihar said they need more stations to cover industrial and commercial areas here so that they can have more details about the air quality and the four stations of DPCC and IMD are also monitoring the pollution levels.

“DPCC or IMD is not under your direct control. We want a centralised body so that datas are shared between all. We want the CPCB to establish a number of such stations. We don’t want the CPCB to depend on other agencies,” the bench said.

The bench also asked the radius of the area covered by one such station, as one of the petitioners said it only covered around a four kilometre area.

“Have you not given a thought to have more such stations? Why did not it occur to you till now,” the bench asked the CPCB, adding, “Do you have any plan in place to respond if there is moderate, poor or severe air pollution level?”

“You will have to tell us what will be graded air quality and how will you grade the air quality level as satisfactory, moderate, poor or severe. It may not be able to have an ideal situation in place like Delhi with so much of vehicles but there should be a plan in place,” the apex court said adding that people may have dangerous diseases like cancer due to the worsening air pollution levels.

The bench also asked the CPCB chairman about the causes of pollution in Delhi.

In response, Parihar said there were various factors like dust on the roads and from construction activities, vehicular pollution, stubble burning in the nearby states and emission from diesel generator sets which were responsible for air pollution here.

However, the bench observed, “whatever you may do, it has to be enforced on the ground”.

“We are informed that cars have been asked to switch to other fuels like CNG at some places. There are also dual fuel technology by which the diesel generator sets can run. You can study it as that will reduce the air pollution level”.

When the court was told that Delhi government has already passed an order regarding diesel generator sets, the bench said “Why cannot the CPCB do this? They have the power to issue such orders. They are competent for that. The problem is that there is no major response to the challenge”.

However, the SG told the bench that directives have been issued from the Centre to the concerned authorities on the air pollution issue but there was “some laxity which has to be revamped”.

“We have a plan that from January end, the air quality will be moderate in Delhi. There are slew of measures on traffic and construction activities to reduce pollution,” the SG said while placing before the bench the satellite pictures of stubble burning in Punjab.

He said on November 4, there were 1,155 fires in Punjab while on November 5, the number was 1,018.

When the SG said that due to wind direction, the smog was coming to Delhi as the farmers in Punjab burnt their stubble due to high cost of transporting husks, the bench said, “we are talking about the straws which are left and are burnt”.

“You see straw burning is going on. It is easy for you people to say that it is being burnt in Punjab or Haryana. As per your study, what percentage of pollution is caused due to stubble burning and burning of straws,” the bench asked.

The CPCB chairman said that till November 1 this year, the percentage was negligible but after the “unusual” change of direction of the winds since November 5, the percentage increased considerably.

The petitioners opposed this CPCB’s contention saying the air quality was severe even in before November 5.

The petitioners also told the bench about two machines for sowing seeds without burning the stubble, including happy seeder which costs around Rs 1.5 lakh.

The SG said that government was mulling over giving subsidy to the farmers to buy such machines.

To this, the bench said, “we do not want if there is happy seeder or unhappy seeder. We want your response. You tell us when you will meet and deliberate upon the issue. Let the CPCB chairman engage himself with all the stakeholders otherwise it will be hot air only”.

“Our anguish is that CPCB or DPCC, which are meant to address these issues, have not been able to come up with a plan. They are just groping in dark. There are other factors for pollution in Delhi. You give us a concrete plan,” it said.

“The ideal situation will be -- set up your centres, talk to your scientists, talk to citizens and have a plan ready for it,” the apex court said and posted the matter for further hearing on November 25.

During the hearing, the bench was also informed that the National Green Tribunal had also passed a slew of directions on air pollution today, while the Delhi High Court was also monitoring the issue.

Advocate Rahul Mehra, appearing for Delhi government, told the apex court that scientists of DPCC had gone abroad to study about the stubble burning issue as crop burning in Punjab and neighbouring states of Delhi was one of the main reasons behind the rising pollution levels.

First Published: Nov 10, 2016 20:37 IST