Hours after Supreme Court's suggestion for strong and immediate measures to control Delhi's deteriorating air quality, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Saturday announced a slew of measures.
For a week from Monday onwards, schools will be physically closed and classes will continue virtually so that children don't have to breathe polluted air, said Kejriwal after an emergency meeting to tackle air pollution in the national capital.
Government offices will operate from home at 100% capacity for a week. Private offices will be issued an advisory to go for work from home (WFH) option as much as possible, the CM added.
Construction activities will be prohibited in Delhi from November 14 to 17. The chief minister said that pollution level is rising in Delhi due to stubble burning in neighbouring states and called upon all stakeholders to work together to combat it.
Kejriwal told reporters that his government will also present a proposal for lockdown before the Supreme Court.
"There was a suggestion in Supreme Court over complete lockdown in Delhi if (pollution) situation turns worse. We're drafting a proposal, which will be discussed with agencies, Centre and will present plan to Supreme Court. If the lockdown happens, construction, vehicular movement will have to be stopped," said Kejriwal.
#WATCH | There was a suggestion in SC over complete lockdown in Delhi if (pollution) situation turns worse...We're drafting a proposal..which will be discussed with agencies, Centre...If it happens, construction, vehicular movement will have to be stopped:Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal pic.twitter.com/TipgA0ySOq— ANI (@ANI) November 13, 2021
Terming the rise in air pollution in Delhi-NCR an "emergency" situation, the Supreme Court on Saturday suggested clamping a lockdown in the national capital as it asked the Centre and the Delhi government to take immediate measures to improve the air quality.
The court said the situation of pollution is so bad that people are wearing masks inside their houses.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana said there are other reasons for pollution such as vehicular emissions, firecrackers and dust, and singling out stubble burning is not the solution.
The apex court also expressed concern that schools in the national capital have opened and children are being exposed to severe pollution conditions.
"Your projection is as if farmers are responsible for this pollution. Seventy per cent. First let the Delhi people be controlled. Where is the effective mechanism to control firecrackers, vehicle pollution etc.? "We understand some per cent is stubble burning. Rest is crackers, vehicular pollution, industries, dust pollution etc. You tell us how to bring AQI levels from 500 to 200 points in Delhi. Take some immediate urgent measures like a two-day lockdown," the bench, also comprising justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant, said.
The apex court asked the Centre to revert on Monday. It also took note of the fact that schools have opened in the national capital and asked the authorities to take immediate measures such as stopping vehicles or imposing a lockdown in Delhi.
"You see how bad the situation is that people are wearing masks inside their houses. What are the steps that you have taken?" the bench asked Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta.
The SG said, "Everyone is fighting their own battle in collaboration with the statutory commission, which is in place." He pointed towards agricultural management and said there is in-situ crop residue management as well as ex-situ crop residue management.
"There has been a spurt in stubble burning in Punjab in the last five-six days, the results we are seeing here today. Punjab needs to buckle up and do something in this regard. State governments are directed to levy environmental compensation if some stubble burning is found in the farms," Mehta said.
He clarified that he was not even remotely suggesting that only farmers are responsible for the air pollution.
"We have nothing to do with which government, whether its the Centre or the state government. The question is how to control and who is responsible. Immediate steps are needed. How to control the situation in two-three days. What is the short-term situation," the bench said.
It said as far as the farmers are concerned, the problem is not enforcement of orders to stop stubble burning but providing incentives to them.
"If you put in place the incentives, then why won't a farmer switch? You cannot enforce these things," the bench said.
The apex court said though machines for stubble management are available, poor farmers cannot afford these machines.
"After the agrarian laws, the landholding in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana is less than three acres. We can't expect those farmers to purchase those machines. Why can't the Centre and the state governments provide the machines? Take away the stubble for use in paper mills and various other purposes. In winters, the stubble can be used for fodder for goats etc. in Rajasthan.
"Can the officials assisting you point out the actual price of the machine after subsidy? Can the farmer afford it? I am a farmer and I know it, the CJI is also from a farmer family, he also knows it and my brother (Justice Chandrachud) also knows it," Justice Kant said.
Mehta informed the bench that the machines are available at an 80-per cent subsidised rate.
He said statutory directions have been issued for the utilisation of paddy stubble in thermal plants within a 300-kilometre radius of Delhi.
The bench sought to know if there is any mechanism at the ground level to collect the stubble from the fields and transport it to the thermal plants.
"What is the economic arrangement so that stubble is removed? What is the arrangement employed for carrying the stubble from the farms to the thermal power plants for ex-situ management?" it asked.
Mehta said the government is hiring agencies and tenders have been issued.
Justice Kant said after harvest, the farmer is under a compulsion to make the field ready for the next season and hence, a speedy mechanism should be in place.
"This is late monsoon and it has been late for the farmers. Now they are in a hurry to sow seeds for the kharif season for wheat in winter. Was any agency enrolled to remove the stubble in the gap of 15 days? It is good that your officers have framed this policy but how are you implementing it?" the bench asked.
The SG requested for time till Monday to place the details on record.
The apex court was hearing a plea filed by environmental activist Aditya Dubey and law student Aman Banka, who sought directions to provide stubble-removing machines to small and marginal farmers for free.
The Supreme Court had earlier raised concern over the worsening air quality in Delhi-NCR and appointed a one-man panel of Justice (retd) Lokur to monitor the steps taken by the neighbouring states to prevent stubble burning, while brushing aside objections from the Centre, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.
According to the Central Pollution Control Board the overall AQI in Delhi was 427 on Saturday evening. According to the government agencies, an AQI between 0-50 is considered good, 51-100 is satisfactory, 101-200 moderate, 201-300 poor, 301-400 very poor and 401-500 are marked as severe/hazardous.