A Delhi High Court bench of justices S Ravindra Bhat and Sanjeev Sachdeva, termed the steps taken to curb pollution in the national capital as ‘woefully inadequate’, after none of the authorities, including the city municipal bodies, were able to show they had complied with the court’s urgent directions of last week, to bring down air pollution. The bench observed that even as the municipal corporations and the Delhi government assured the court that they sprinkled water on the roads, as ordered by it to reduce dust generation.
The court also put tough questions to the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), represented by advocate Sanjeev Ralli, on the number of prosecutions it has launched, for the violation of construction norms, the number of teams it has for inspection and whether any penalties were provided for, under the Environment Protection Act. “Where is the will (to take action)?” it asked the DPCC.
The pollution control committee told the bench that fines amounting to Rs 50,000 were levied, for every violation of construction norm in the city and 25 per cent of the amount collected, was remitted to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for utilisation. The DPCC said the fines were levied on the directions of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which had also ordered that the remaining 75 per cent of the amounts collected be spent on mitigating air pollution in the city. The DPCC also informed the court that the quadrupling of parking fare in Delhi has been done away with.
Amicus curiae and senior advocate Kailash Vasdev, assisting the court, submitted that apart from the fines, over Rs 700 crores had been collected as green cess for bringing to Delhi cars of 2,000 cc or larger engine capacity. The bench, thereafter, directed the authorities, including the CPCB and DPCC, to inform it about the proposed projects on which money would be spent, to mitigate air pollution in Delhi. “We want to know what is being done with the funds,” it said.
It told the Delhi government to consider applying to the centre, under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) Act, for release of additional funds for utilisation under this law.
The local bodies and the AAP government were directed by the court, ‘to indicate the most appropriate methods to ensure a coordinated approach, to deal with polluting construction sites and effective implementation of the Air Act and the Environment Protection Act’ and the rules and guidelines framed under them.
The authorities were also asked to provide the details before November 29, 2017, the next date of hearing. During the nearly two-hour long hearing, Vasdev told the bench that there has been no compliance of its November 9, 2017 order.
On November 9, the high court had issued a slew of directions to improve air quality, including watering of the roads to minimise dust and had also suggested exploring the option of ‘cloud seeding’ in the meeting between the centre and the state governments of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
The centre placed before the court the minutes of the meeting held on November 10, 2017. Referring to the report, the amicus said that the centre and state governments were looking at the cost effectiveness of cloud seeding, when the point of cost should not be a concern for them, where health of the people is concerned. The report of the meeting also said that there is not sufficient scientific evidence to show that cloud seeding was an effective technology.
He also said that there was no reference in the report on how the centre and states planned to prevent stubble burning in future. Delhi government’s additional standing counsel Naushad Ahmed Khan told the bench that its hospitals, dispensaries and mohalla clinics were ready to deal with any health issues posed by the poor air quality. The court was hearing a PIL initiated by it to curb air pollution in the national capital. It has been issuing directions from time-to-time, in this regard.