‘Some sections project us as villains’: SC on Delhi schools’ closure due to air pollution

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An aggrieved Supreme Court on Friday clarified that the decision to shut schools in Delhi over the degrading air quality in the national capital was not entirely on its initiative.

“One thing that we observed, don’t know whether intentional or unintentional, some sections of the media and others try to present as if we are the villain and we want to close schools,” Chief Justice N V Ramana said. He told Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who appeared for the Delhi government, that it was they who said that “they would impose a lockdown, close schools.

“But see today’s newspapers. That is my complaint too. You must put the blame where it is. Today one newspaper has conveyed in particular that the hearing was an aggressive combat and suggested that the court wants to take over administration,” the CJI added.

Singhvi said that “the fact that one newspaper is at variance with the two others shows the falsity in it”. “You can go and explain and condemn…but what will we do….freedom of the press…they can pick up anything…You can have press conference, we can’t…,” the CJI said, while asking Singhvi as to which newspaper reported so.

Singhvi replied that it was The Indian Express’s report that stated how the court was lambasting the government. Commenting on this, Justice Chandrachud said that a few days ago, he was part of a Bench with Justice Surya Kant regarding a case dealing with a matter relating to judicial infrastructure and had suggested something constructive. “However, the headline that came out was ‘High Courts have to go with begging bowl to government’,” he added.

Earlier, during the hearing, while taking note of the Centre’s affidavit regarding setting up of an ‘Enforcement Task Force’ to tackle Delhi’s air pollution, the Supreme Court asked the Centre and NCR states to implement the directions of the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas (CAQM) and deferred the hearing by a week.

The Bench, headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana and comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant, will be hearing the matter next on December 10.

Ahead of the hearing, the Centre told the top court that CAQM had constituted an “Enforcement Task Force” to take steps to curb the rising air pollution levels.

The government informed that the five-member task force “will exercise powers of taking punitive and preventive measures against the non-compliant/defaulting persons/entities”. As part of this, 17 task forces have been constituted and these will directly report to the main task force, it said. Earlier, the inspections were to be carried out by the Central Pollution Control Board and the pollution control board or committee of the respective state governments. The government added that these flying squads have started functioning from December 2 and are already conducting surprise checks at 25 sites. It also assured that the number of such squads will be increased to 40 in the next 24 hours.

Justice Chandrachud asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehra whether the flying squads will only be confined to Delhi or will they go to other places too. Mehta replied that they will travel across the National Capital Region.

The affidavit also mentioned that only 5 of the 11 thermal power plants situated within three 300 km of Delhi will remain operative at least till December 15, 2021.

On this, Justice Chandrachud suggested to the SG that discussions should be held to assess the power requirement and augment the shortfall owing to the closure. The CJI, however, said that “on a long-term basis, you have to think of shifting it out”.

The affidavit also mentioned about the closure or truncated working hours of industries in NCR. Referring to this, the Senior Advocate Ranjit Kumar said that the measure will lead to a complete closure of sugar mills as the boilers need 40 hours to start.

The court said that he can approach the Commission for suitable orders.

The SC also allowed a request by the Delhi government to continue carrying construction work at some hospitals subject to them following the rules set out to check pollution.

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