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Devise strategy to tackle toxic haze, Supreme Court tells Centre

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by November 8, 2016 General
A man covers his face with a scarf as he rides in front of the landmark India Gate, enveloped by smoke and smog. (Photo: AP)

A man covers his face with a scarf as he rides in front of the landmark India Gate, enveloped by smoke and smog. (Photo: AP)

Observing that air pollution in the capital is a “public health emergency” as it has crossed “human permissible levels”, the Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Centre to devise a “common minimum graded response” to tackle the menace. The apex court has been monitoring the issue of air pollution and has passed a series of orders in the last one year to control it.

Hearing a report of the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA), a three-judge Bench, comprising

Chief Justice T.S. Thakur and Justices A.K. Sikri and S.A. Bobde, expressed great concern over the alarming levels of pollution in the National Capital Region. Terming it as a public health emergency, the court asked the Centre to come with a disaster response mechanism that will be put in place when air pollution level begins to increase.

The CJI said “Cities like Beijing and Singapore have a graded system of shutting schools, vehicles, industries and finally the city itself if pollution crosses certain level. Does our country has such a policy?” Graded system means if pollution crosses a certain level, vehicles are banned, and if it goes higher, schools are shut and still higher city is shut. 

The CJI suggested that the common minimum graded response come into action at different levels. Asking the Centre to apprise it about the policy, if any, to tackle the issue of rising pollution, the court gave 48 hours to the central government to submit its action plan.

The solicitor general told the court, “Give us two days’ time so that we can convene a meeting of the environment secretary and other stake holders in Delhi and come with suggestions.” Justice Sikri told the SG, “When political parties can come together to have a common minimum programme, why can’t the Centre, the Delhi government and other agencies come together to have a common minimum graded response?”

Earlier, counsel Aparajitha for EPCA brought to the notice of the court that the various orders passed by the apex court had not been properly implemented by the agencies concerned. She said that Rs 8 crore had been collected through diesel cess and Rs 440 crore through ECC — environment compensatory charge — “which can be properly utilized to check air pollution.”

The court had strong words for the Delhi government for not doing much on vacuum cleaning, controlling dust on construction. Senior counsel Indira Jaising, appearing for the Delhi government, said out of six vacuum cleaners, only two are in working condition and tenders have been floated for 15 more vacuum cleaners.

The bench then directed the Delhi government to ensure that its orders regarding the cleaning of streets and halting of construction activities be complied with. Mercedes car company assured the court that it will supply two vacuum cleaners to the Delhi government. The bench posted the matter for further hearing on November 10 when detailed orders will be passed based on the Centre’s action plan.

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