SC Asks for 'Real Solutions' to Pollution
Environmental experts say stubble burning is used as a political tool, while the real problem is being ignored
The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to accord urgent hearing to a PIL seeking fresh guidelines on stubble burning to curb air pollution in Delhi-NCR, saying some issues are not "judicially amenable" and stressing the need for "genuine solutions". A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justices Hima Kohli and J B Pardiwala asked lawyer Shashank Shekhar Jha, who filed the PIL, whether banning stubble burning alone would help in curbing air pollution.
The CJI asked Jha what is his solution to Delhi pollution. On being told that stubble burning is causing the pollution, the bench said, "So we ban it? Will that stop? Do we enforce it against every farmer? Let us think of some genuine solutions. There are things, (where) courts can do something and there are things where courts cannot do. We are to look at the judicial aspects."
"Some matters, courts can look into and some it cannot. Since they are not judicially amenable… We have heard you and it would not be taken up now," the CJI said.
Environmental experts believe that although stubble burning cannot be ruled out as a pollution factor, it is being used as a political tool by parties, while the real problem at hand is being ignored.
Vikrant Tongad is an environmental conservationist based in Noida. Tongad, in 2012 had approached the National Green Tribunal and sought ban on burning of agricultural waste and remnants in open fields.
"We went to NGT regarding stubble burning telling them that it is an environmental issue and not just a farmer's issue. After that it was banned. However, after that no concrete order came. It was mostly due to the fact that everyone started blaming stubble burning as the sole reason and politicians started using them at their own discretion," he told The Citizen.
On asking what concrete and genuine steps does Delhi-NCR need to stabilise the situation, which has become a yearly phenomena, Tongad said that there is lack of political will and if taken seriously, the situation may improve.
"The Air Quality Monitoring Commission has been set up, which we see is seriously working. This committee is better than the Bhure Lal Committee because under the latter's supervision air pollution conditions in Delhi have deteriorated over the past 20 years," he said.
The Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) was established as a statutory body by the government in August 2021 as an overarching body to carry out air quality management in Delhi NCR. It recently directed that all construction and demolition sites in the NCR should deploy anti-smog guns in proportion to the area of the project.
State Pollution Control Boards in the NCR, including the Delhi Pollution Control Committee, have been directed to ensure "continuous and effective" use of anti-smog guns at construction and demolition sites, according to a communication from the CAQM.
Sites with a construction area of 5,000 to 10,000 sq m are required to deploy at least one anti-smog gun.
At least two such anti-smog guns are to be deployed at sites with an area of 10,001 to 15,000 sq m, three at sites with an area of 15,001 to 20,000 sq m, and four at sites which have a construction area of more than 20,000 sq m, the CAQM has said.
"Committees have been made, however on ground they are not that effective," Tongad adds. "A lot of work is going on paper. But we have to understand that we do not just need seasonal solutions to this. Only when pollution comes are these committees and policies in effect."
Tongad whilst calling it a political blame game has said the situation is serious and needs urgent attention. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) run Delhi government has tried to come up with plans, but nothing has been effective so far.
"Implementing odd even just for a month or so is not going to give solutions. The implementation of anti-smog guns does not make sense. Have they done any scientific research or read papers regarding anti-smog guns," he said. He said that things like smoke towers and anti-smoke guns have been a massive failure globally, however the governments here are focusing on them.
Meanwhile, the latest study, published in the journal Science Advances, suggests that the annual global death count from outdoor Fine pollution particles (PM2.5) may be significantly higher than previously thought. The study reveals that PM2.5 may be responsible for 1.5 million additional premature deaths around the globe each year.
The World Health Organization's most recent estimates are that over 4.2 million people die prematurely each year due to long-term exposure to fine particulate outdoor air pollution referred to as PM2.5.
Another study by the US-based Health Effects Institute released this year studied data between 2010 and 2019, finding Delhi to be the most polluted city in the world in terms of PM2.5 levels, reporting an average annual exposure (relative to population) of 110 µg/m3.
Schools were shut down, while government suggested work from home to office goers only shows that not only has the policy failed, the government has not come up with any concrete solutions, with courts demanding the same.
Schools that were shut in Delhi were reopened from November 9 while the Delhi government lifted bans that were enforced to contain pollution. The government has also lifted curbs on the entry of trucks into Delhi and ban on construction workers related to roads, highways, flyovers, overbridges, pipelines and power transmission networks.