“Can’t Take Us For Granted”: Supreme Court’s Tough Words For Delhi

New Delhi:

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 over delayed funding of the Delhi-Meerut RRTS (regional rapid transport system) and ordered funds be transferred from the AAP’s spending on ads.

“You have not complied with our order. We don’t have any other way. You can’t take us for granted…” 

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.

The Delhi government had expressed its inability to provide its share of funds – amounting to Rs 415 crore – after which the court directed it to place on record funds spent on ads in the last three years.

This order was 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 ruling AAP.

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.

“One problem is that the people who are burning the stubble will not come here (they are not represented here). We understand that those who have substantial land holdings will not come here (to the court, because they can afford the machinery to safely dispose farm waste)…”

“But people with small land holdings are struggling with stubble burning. For poor farmers, the state should fund 100 per cent of machinery… this is the duty of the state,” the court told Punjab.

“And then the government can take the product and sell it…”

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.

There are various factors that contribute to the hazardous air covering Delhi at this time of the year, including farm fires, fireworks during Diwali, vehicular traffic and dust from construction activities, all of which hangs over the city because there is no wind to disperse the pollutants.

On Monday, Punjab reported 634 farm fires in a day as many farmers continue to set paddy crop waste on fire – so they can ready the field for a quick second crop – despite police warnings.

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