However, in view of the same, the Supreme Court directed the union government to call an emergency meeting of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and UP on 16 November for taking urgent measures about persuading farmers to stop stubble burning.
It said that action was needed to stop non-essential vehicular traffic, industrial pollution and dust control measures.
Here’s what the union government argued in court:
Stubble burning at present is not the main cause of pollution in Delhi and northern states as it contributes only 10% of the pollution.
Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta told a bench of CJI NV Ramana and Justices DY Chandrachud and Surya Kant that dust is a major cause of pollution now. He praised the Delhi government for doing its utmost in undertaking intensive sprinkling measures and stopping construction activities.
Petitioner Aditya Dubey’s counsel Vikas Singh said just because of upcoming elections in Punjab, neither the union government nor the AAP government was saying anything against farm fires. However, the CJI-led bench said it was not hearing the issue of elections or politics but one of taking measures to bring down pollution.
Mehta said experts were on the job and if needed a lockdown would be declared if the air quality were to turn worse. Before that, he said, the entry of trucks in Delhi would be banned and the thermal power stations would be asked to stop operating till the situation improves.
The solicitor-general said that farm fires contributed to pollution for just about two months.
The Supreme Court said that without all these scientific studies and expert views, it was common knowledge that vehicular traffic, industries and dust were the major pollutants in cities. If the governments take timely steps, pollution can be managed, it said.
The Supreme Court asked the Delhi government why only 69 mechanised sweeping machines were put on service to clean the roads allowing the dust pollution to continue to be a major source of pollution.
The court took exception to what it saw as the Delhi government passing the buck to MCD and said if such “lame excuses” were given, it would be compelled to audit the Delhi government to find out how much money is spent by it to popularise its slogans and messages.
The union government suggested three steps to the Supreme Court to bring down pollution
- re-introduction of odd-even vehicle rule
- ban on trucks’ entry in Delhi and
- the severest measure of a lockdown
The court asked the Delhi government counsel Rahul Mehra to inform immediately how many mechanised road sweeping machines the government could procure in the next 24 h to ease pollution caused by dust particles.
The Supreme Court said since farm fires contributed only 4-10% to pollution, the states could persuade the farmers not to burn paddy stubble. “Don’t take action against farmers, persuade them,” the court said, also seeking an action plan from the union government, Punjab, Haryana and Delhi within a day.
The Delhi government told the top court that it was ready to sanction funds for procurement of mechanised road sweeping machines as soon as the MCDs specify their requirements. The court asked it to take action and not wait for it to give directions.
The Delhi government told the Supreme Court that it was ready to take steps like complete lockdown to control the local emission.
However, the city-state government said since air had no boundary, the union government must bring all NCR states on board and declare a lockdown in the entire NCR region. The Supreme Court said it was for the governments to take action and not for the court to devise steps for the executive.
The Delhi government, listing the steps taken so far, said no physical classes would be held in schools this week and the government officials would work from home, and private offices had also been advised to allow work-from-home for their employees.
“All construction and demolition activities will be closed with immediate effect till 17 November,” it said.
The matter has now been adjourned for hearing on 17 November.