“Governments elected by people have the least concern for the health of its citizens”, the National Green Tribunal Thursday said as it passed a slew of directions including setting up of centralised and state level monitoring committees to prepare action plans to combat pollution in a bid to tackle environment emergencies.
Asking Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan to consider banning 10-year-old diesel vehicles from plying on the roads, the green panel said “the time has come when all concerned authorities must show concern to improve the ambient air quality in their states.”
The NGT directed that every state committee should, in their first meeting, notify one district where land use of agriculture is high and make it a model district for implementing orders to stop stubble burning.
“The basic fundamental question which arises for consideration is whether state governments and especially the Delhi government can provide scientific justification as to why the people of the national capital should be exposed to such severe pollution. The governments which have been elected by people have least concern for the health of their citizens,” a bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar said.
Terming as “severe” levels of pollution when PM 10 and PM 2.5 are above 431 and 251 micrograms per cubic metre respectively in the ambient air, it said when air pollution takes such alarming proportions, immediate steps are needed to be taken as environmental emergency.
In such situations, helicopters should be used to sprinkle water in the Delhi-NCR region, especially in those areas where pollution levels are in excess of the prescribed standard limits, the bench said.
Coming down heavily on states for not taking action against farmers burning farm residues, NGT asked them, particularly Punjab, to consider withdrawal of incentive including grant of free power to farmers burning crops.
“In such emergency, states shall immediately provide happy seeders or other such machines in agriculture fields for removal of agriculture residue and incentives should be provided to farmers to sell their paddy straw to biomass plants, industries and board making unit.
“All construction and demolition activities and transportation of construction material should be halted temporarily and stone crushers should be directed to shut down,” it said.
The bench said the air pollution in Delhi and surrounding areas had reached “new heights” in the last 10 days affecting public health of all generations without exception and was detrimental to the school children, infants, office-goers and poor strata of society.
In the hearing which went on for three hours, the tribunal also directed the state governments to issue guidelines on “manufacture, sale and burning” of crackers and issue directions with regard to the noise caused by them and the extent of smoke which emanated from the fireworks.
“If thermal power plants, hot mix plants and brick kilns are found to be emitting pollution more than the prescribed standards during an emergency situation, they should be shut down temporarily till they reduce the level of emissions,” the bench said.
“All five state governments shall start vacuum cleaning of roads to prevent dust pollution and vehicular pollution,” the bench said while asking Delhi to strictly enforce their existing order on deregistering diesel vehicles older than ten years and petrol vehicles older than 15 years.
The NGT rapped five northern states and said all of them, especially Punjab, have not been able to implement the orders of the tribunal in true letter and spirit.
“It is conceded that 70 per cent of the land covered by agricultural activity was put on fire by the farmers of Punjab who burnt agricultural residue. Similarly in Haryana, burning of crops took place as well.
“Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan were no exception though their contribution was less than others. This aspect needs to be examined and rigorous steps need to be taken to ensure there is no crop burning in future,” the bench said.
The green panel directed the inter-state central monitoring committee and state committees to enforce their orders on vehicular pollution, dust pollution, solid waste and crop burning.
While directing the civic bodies to send half their staff in the field to ensure that no one burnt leaves or waste and violating its orders, it asked the the Chief Secretaries to take disciplinary action against officials who were not executing the orders on air pollution.
The NGT asked the municipal corporations, Public Works Department, Delhi Development Authority and other authorities to maintain green cover near flyovers and other government
“The public authorities shall ensure that waste dumping sites are not put to fire and social awareness is created about the ill effects of air pollution,” it said.
Terming the right to clean environment as a fundamental right of the citizens, the bench said the state governments owed a constitutional duty to protect health of its people and provide air which is breathable.
“The children of our society have a right to breathe clean air and play in the open rather than being forced to remain shut inside their houses. Time has come when all concerned authorities must show concern to improve the ambient air quality in these states and more particularly Delhi,” the bench said.
While the central monitoring committee would meet once in two months starting from November 17, the state level committees would conduct meetings every month starting November 24, the green panel directed.
It also referred to the recent study of World Health Organisation which said that out of the most polluted cities, 10 places were situated in India.