Toxic air: Delhi shuts schools & construction, begins WFH after SC suggests lockdown

'It has become a fashion to blame the farmers. Have you seen how crackers are being burnt in Delhi for the last seven days?' an angry SC asked on Saturday.

The SC bench said singling out stubble-burning for the pollution in Delhi was wrong.

Hours after an angry Supreme Court rebuked the Centre and Delhi government for the toxic smog enveloping the Capital for more than seven days, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal announced a four-step pollution control plan, which includes planning for a city-wide lockdown.

The Supreme Court on Saturday called the toxic air pollution in Delhi-NCR an “emergency” situation, and asked the Centre and state to take urgent steps to improve the air quality.

The court went on to suggest steps such as stopping vehicles and clamping a lockdown in the Capital, and pointed out that the situation of pollution is so bad that people are wearing masks inside their houses.

As the SC hauled up the administration, Kejriwal announced that schools will shift to online classes starting Monday, all construction activity in the city will be shut down, and government offices will work from home.

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According to the Central Pollution Control Board, at 6.30 pm the overall AQI in Delhi was 427 – in the ‘severe’ category.

A bench headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana said there are other reasons for pollution such as vehicular emissions, firecrackers and dust, and singling out stubble-burning is not the solution.

“Your projection is as if farmers are responsible for this pollution. Seventy per cent. First let the Delhi people be controlled. Where is the effective mechanism to control firecrackers, vehicle pollution, etc? We understand some per cent is stubble-burning. Rest is crackers, vehicular pollution, industries, dust pollution etc. You tell us how to bring AQI levels from 500 to 200 points in Delhi. Take some immediate urgent measures like a two-day lockdown,” the bench, also comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and Surya Kant, said.

The apex court has asked the Centre to revert on Monday.

It also took note of the fact that schools have opened in the national capital and asked the authorities to take immediate measures such as stopping vehicles or imposing a lockdown in Delhi.

Appearing for the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said there is stubble-burning in Punjab and the state will have to do something in this regard.

Also read: Pollution + COVID in Delhi deadly mix, children most vulnerable: Doctors

The bench, however, said, “Your projection is as if farmers are only responsible. What about steps taken to contain the pollution in Delhi?”

Mehta clarified that he was not even remotely suggesting that only farmers are responsible for the pollution.

When senior advocate Rahul Mehra, appearing for the Delhi government, mentioned the issue of stubble-burning, the bench said: “Be the petitioners, the Delhi government or anybody else – it has become a fashion to blame the farmers. Have you seen how crackers are being burnt in Delhi for the last seven days? What was the Delhi Police doing?”

The apex court was hearing a plea filed by environmental activist Aditya Dubey and law student Aman Banka, who sought directions to provide stubble-removal machines to small and marginal farmers for free.

Later on Saturday, Kejriwal told reporters: “For a week from Monday onwards, schools will be physically closed (they can continue virtually) so children don’t have to breathe polluted air. Construction activities will not to be allowed between November 14 and 17.”

“Government offices will operate from home (WFH) at 100 per cent capacity for a week. Private offices will be issued an advisory to go for WFH option as much as possible,” he said.

(With inputs from Agencies)

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