"How do people breathe?", the Supreme Court remarked today while expressing concern over rising pollution level in Delhi-NCR and summoned the chief secretaries of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to apprise it about the steps taken to deal with the problem.
Delhi is "suffering badly" due to the pollution level and "drastic" and effective steps are required by the authorities to reduce it, the apex court observed.
"Why cannot we have a clean Delhi? Evergreen and ever clean?," a bench of justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta said and directed the authorities to clear the 13 pollution hotspots in the national capital within a week.
The top court observed that odd-even vehicle scheme in Delhi has not been effective in reducing pollution level and the air quality index (AQI) has deteriorated further.
"Delhi is suffering badly. The AQI inside the room is above 600 today. Outside the room, it is worse. How do people breathe?," the bench said.
It questioned Delhi government on the exemptions given, including to two and three wheelers, during odd-even scheme and said it is a "half baked solution".
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) ANS Nadkarni told the bench that the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has found that odd-even has no effect on the pollution level in Delhi.
Senior lawyer Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Delhi government, said as per study reports, the pollution level has reduced from 5-15 per cent during odd-even scheme.
"If exemptions are removed, it might reduce more. There are large number of two wheelers in the city and if we stop them (during odd-even scheme), the whole city will collapse," he said, adding, "The real culprit is stubble burning".
The bench however said that stubble burning contributes to around 44 per cent of the total pollution here while the remaining 56 per cent comes from Delhi itself.
When Rohatgi referred to data to buttress his arguments that during odd-even days pollution has reduced, the bench said, "It was virtually the same without odd-even also".
On the issue of stubble burning, the bench said that despite its order, the practice was continuing in Haryana, Punjab and in western Uttar Pradesh.
Stubble burning in Punjab has decreased while it has increased in Haryana, it said.
"Why is this happening? We have to call the chief secretaries. Why this burning is taking place? It is shocking," the bench said.
The top court also said there are reports that kerosene oil was being used in diesel run vehicles which is causing "obnoxious fumes and cancerous lungs".
It directed the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) to conduct random check of such vehicles and said in case it is found that kerosene oil is being used, not only the owner and driver but also the officer of the concerned corporation or department would be held accountable.
Regarding the 13 pollution hotspots in Delhi, the bench was informed by the CPCB''s member secretary, who was present in the court, that several steps have been taken in this regard.
"Let effective steps be taken to reduce pollution and let the hot spots be cleared of all pollutants," the bench said.
It also asked Delhi government to suggest steps which could be taken to reduce the pollution which has reached "severe level".
While summoning the four chief secretaries for November 25, the bench said it requires their presence in the court so as to ascertain what steps they have taken to reduce pollution level as well as stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
It said that authorities should discharge their duty in public trust so as to combat the problem of pollution.
During the hearing, the bench was told about the factors which contributes to pollution in the national capital.
The CPCB official told the court that vehicular pollution contributes to 28 per cent of the total pollution, which includes 8 per cent from trucks, 7 per cent from two wheelers, 5 per cent due to three-wheelers and 3 per cent each by buses and cars.
The official said that pollution due to construction and demolition activities, dust, garbage dumping and burning, dust on roads were the other main contributors in pollution.
Additional Solicitor General Nadkarni told the bench that the authorities and expert bodies are examining the feasibility of putting up smog towers to reduce pollution in Delhi.
A professor from IIT Bombay, who is involved in the deliberations, explained to the bench the technical and other aspects related to the smog towers and said it has already been installed in China.
"Why don''t you go for the best technology in the world?," the bench asked, adding, "You go for equipment which has high range".
The bench, which asked the Centre to come out with a road map within a week on measures to curb pollution, said the authorities must take a final call on this as soon as possible keeping in view the worsening pollution level in Delhi.
The Additional Solicitor General also apprised the bench about the other steps which the authorities are taking, including on filtration and purification of air and use of dust suppressant, to deal with the problem.
The bench said authorities must do their best to deal with the issue as it was not adversarial and there should not be any kind of differences between them.
The top court is dealing with the issue related to air pollution in the Delhi-national capital region (NCR).