Noting that efforts to reduce air pollution in the national capital were not reflecting on the ground, the Supreme Court Tuesday directed the Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan governments to file affidavits listing the steps taken by them to prevent this.
A three-judge bench presided by Justice S K Kaul gave the states a week’s time to file their responses.
The bench, also comprising Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia and P K Mishra, said this after the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas said in a status report that stubble burning in neighbouring states — which is one of the main reasons for air pollution in Delhi — had come down.
The report pointed out that “following frequent reviews and daily monitoring of the fire counts as per the Standard Protocol developed by ISRO for the Commission, the number of events of paddy stubble burning” had decreased “for the period between September 15 and October 24 during 2022 and 2023 respectively”.
While Punjab recorded 5,617 stubble-burning incidents during the period in 2022, there were only 2,306 such incidents for the same period in 2023, a reduction of approximately 58.9%. Haryana had 1,360 fires in 2022 compared to 813 in 2023, a decrease of approximately 40.2%.
The Commission said this “reveals that as of now, there is a significant reduction in stubble-burning events in Punjab and Haryana”.
The report added that “with persistent field level efforts and targeted policy initiatives in the short/ medium/ long term, it is expected that instances of paddy stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana & NCR areas of UP will see gradual but marked improvement, year on year, with a consequent improvement in the air quality of Delhi-NCR during the paddy harvesting season”.
The bench, however, said that statistics can sometimes be deceptive and rued that the air pollution problem was persisting year after year.
Referring to news reports on the continuing incidents of stubble burning incidents, Justice Kaul said, “The point is on ground reality. What is happening? Whatever happens, the air quality does not improve”. He observed that till a “couple of decades back, this was the best time in Delhi”.
The bench said in its order, “The status report has been filed on behalf of the Commission for Air Quality Management… The report is comprehensive, but the problem of air quality still persists. One of the issues flagged is crop burning… We call upon the states of Punjab, Haryana, UP, Rajasthan and Delhi to file their affidavits within a week…”
The court also asked the Commission to place before it in a tabular form the “result for the relevant period which is when the problem starts till one day before the next date”.
Senior Advocate A D N Rao is assisting the court as amicus curiae in the matter to seek responses from the states on what they had done to give effect to the recommendations of the commission.