The Supreme Court on Friday allowed the Delhi government to go ahead with construction activities of hospitals in the city and expressed satisfaction over fresh steps taken by the Commission for Air Quality Management in Delhi-NCR for enforcement of orders to tackle air pollution.
A Bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana Justices DY Chandrachud and Surya Kant approving the measures proposed by the Commission directed the Centre and Delhi government to comply with Commission's December 2 orders.
"We have taken into consideration the directions proposed. We direct Centre and NCT of Delhi to implement the orders of December 2 and we keep the matter pending and will hear it on next Friday," the Bench stated in its order.
The Delhi government today urged the apex court to allow construction activities of hospitals in the city adding to prepare and counter the possible Covid-19 third wave, it had started to revamp its hospital infrastructure and started construction of seven new hospitals, but due to the construction ban, work has stopped.
In addition to that, work is being carried out in 19 government hospitals to provide better health infrastructure in the national capital for the benefit of patients, Delhi government told the Bench requesting that construction work at hospitals be exempted from the ban.
The construction activities in Delhi were banned after air quality raised to alarming levels in the city and its adjoining areas. On November 22, the Delhi government resumed the construction activities in view of the improved air quality, but the apex court revived the ban on November 24 in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR).
The State of Uttar Pradesh, represented by senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, took objection to the decision to close industries saying that it will impact the working of sugarcane and milk industries. The Commission's decision to allow industries to work only eight hours will affect the sugarcane industry, Kumar said.
He added that Uttar Pradesh is in the downward wind and the air is mostly coming from Pakistan.
The Bench allowed Uttar Pradesh to raise its grievances before the Commission.
Commission for Air Quality Management in Delhi-NCR filed the affidavit before the apex court apprising about the measures taken by it on December 2, saying it has constituted an enforcement task force to monitor compliance with its directions to control air pollution.
The Commission said an Enforcement Task Force of five members has been constituted by the commission in the exercise of its statutory power and 17 flying squads are constituted to act against violators. The number of flying squads would be increased to 40 in the next 24 hours, Commission in its affidavit told the Bench.
The said Flying Squads have already started functioning from December 2 itself and have conducted surprise checks at 25 sites, it said.
The Enforcement Task Force itself will exercise powers of taking punitive and preventive measures against the non-compliant/defaulting persons/entities and the flying squads will directly report to the Enforcement Task Force of the Commission, affidavit stated.
Commission also told the top court that schools and colleges in NCR shall remain closed till further orders, allowing only online mode of application except for the purpose of conducting examinations and laboratory practicals etc.
"Operation of thermal power plants within three hundred kilometres of the radius of Delhi shall continue to be regulated in terms of commissions latest order dated November 30, 2021, whereby, only five out of eleven thermal power plants, have been permitted to schedule their operations and rest have been directed to remain inoperative till at-least December 15, 2021," affidavit stated.
Entry of trucks in Delhi shall not be permitted, except for CNG and electric trucks and trucks carrying essential commodities, the affidavit filed by the Commission said.
"On industrial pollution, the Commission has further directed on December 2, 2021, that industrial operations and processes in NCR, where gas is not available and the said industrial unit is not running on PNG or cleaner fuels shall be allowed to operate only up to eight hours a day during weekdays and shall remain closed during Saturday and Sunday," it added.
During the hearing, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi appearing for the Delhi government complained that one newspaper has conveyed in particular that yesterday's hearing was aggressive combat and as if Chief Justice of India (CJI) was threatening to take over the administrative duty.
CJI replied that the court cannot interfere with freedom of speech and expression and told Singhvi that you are from a political party and can hold a press conference but judges cannot do so.
Singhvi also argued that schools have been closed again and they were closed for 17 months and effectively they were opened only for 17 days in November.
The Bench replied that we have observed, don't know whether it's intentional or not, some sections of media try to project we are "villains" and we want to close down the schools. You (Delhi government) had said we were closing schools and introducing work from home, but see today's newspapers, CJI further said.
The top court has been hearing a plea seeking emergency steps to control the worsening air quality situation in the national capital region.
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