The Supreme Court came down hard on the Punjab and Delhi governments Tuesday – and offered a measure of support to farmers from the former state – as it continues a marathon hearing into a clutch of petitions about the toxic air that blankets and chokes the national capital every winter.
A bench of Justices SK Kaul and S Dhulia ordered the states – both ruled by the Aam Aadmi Party – to take action against the burning of agricultural waste, which adds significantly to Delhi’s AQI crisis.
“This is the most polluted November in six years… the problem is known (and) it is your job to control it,” the court told the two states, and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh – ruled by the BJP.
The court also reprimanded the Delhi government (again) over delays in funding the Delhi-Meerut RRTS, or the regional rapid transport system, and ordered (again) that funds be transferred from the ruling party’s spending on advertisements to highlight its achievements. “You have not complied with our order. We don’t have any other way. You can’t take us for granted…” an irked court said.
In July the court rebuked the Delhi government after it said it could not contribute to a rail network that will connect the city to neighbouring states and is expected to reduce vehicular traffic.
However, at the request of the Delhi government, this order has been stayed for a week.
“If Delhi government doesn’t pay the RRTS amount within a week, the funds will be transferred from its ‘advertisements’ allocations,” the court warned.
The court was, however, more sympathetic to the condition of farmers in Punjab, who have come under severe scrutiny (again) for burning agricultural or crop waste, or stubble. “The farmer is being made a villain… and he is not being heard from. He must have some reason to burn this stubble.”
This is not the first time the Supreme Court has pointed out that farmers – who have been accused by all sides of contributing to the air quality crisis – have not been represented in the hearing.
The court also suggested the Punjab government offer farmers incentives to not burn stubble. “They should learn from Haryana regarding incentives given to farmers,” the court observed.
The Supreme Court also had sharp words for the Punjab government; this was after it was told state police had filed 984 FIRs against landlords and farmers over stubble burning, and 8,481 meetings had been held with farmer communities to discourage them from burning crop waste.
Every winter, the air quality in Delhi and surrounding regions plunges to extremely toxic levels, triggering widespread health scares and forcing schools and colleges to shut down for days. This morning the AQI was at 323, indicating ‘very poor’ air quality, central government data said.