‘We give you 24 hours’: SC criticises Delhi, Centre over pollution crisis

CJI tells Delhi authorities that the SC would 'appoint somebody to administer your government' in case action is not taken

Delhi smog and air pollution
Delhi saw its worst November air this year since the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) started measuring the air quality index (AQI) in 2015

Pollution levels in Delhi have increased despite government claims, the Supreme Court said on Thursday, a day when air quality in the capital hit ‘severe’ category.

“We feel that nothing is happening and the pollution keeps increasing… only time is being wasted,” Chief Justice N V Ramana said during a hearing.

The court was hearing arguments over the crisis in the capital and neighbouring states for the fourth straight week, and gave a 24-hour ultimatum to the Centre, Delhi, and nearby states to act against industrial and vehicular pollution.

Delhi’s air quality deteriorated sharply after Diwali last month, with farm fires being blamed as a major source of pollutants. A month on, the city is still gasping for air.


Chiding the AAP government over the reopening of schools, the court said: “Three year olds and four year olds are going to schools but adults are working from home.” 

Also read: Dropping temperature likely to keep Delhi’s pollution levels high

The CJI told Delhi authorities that the SC would “appoint somebody to administer your government” in case action is not taken.

Lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing Delhi, said: “On schools, there is a lot of debate on ‘learning loss’. We reopened with the condition including the option for online.”

“You are saying you left it optional. But who wants to sit at home? We also have children and grandchildren. We know the problems they have been facing since the pandemic. If you don’t take action we will take strict action tomorrow. We are giving you 24 hours,” Ramana responded.

Delhi schools reopened on Monday, about ten days after closure over the crisis.

The court asked Singhvi to “get instructions on what the Delhi government is doing on schools and offices”.

During the hearing the SC asked tough questions on action against industrial sites and checks on entry of vehicles into Delhi. The Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas (CAQM) on air pollution has “no power of enforcement, and no power of real prosecution”, Justice D Y Chandrachud observed.

“When hearings on the issue started there was a certain AQI [Air Quality Index]. If as many efforts as you are claiming have been made then why is pollution increasing? That is the simple question a layman will ask. So many arguments by lawyers and so many government claims. But why is pollution increasing?” the CJI asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.

“In an emergency, you have to work actively and with creativity. Do we have to tell the bureaucracy every time what is to be done? What is the point of a 20-30 member committee. We can’t enforce or infuse creativity into your bureaucracy. They have to think of measures themselves,” he added.

Justice Surya Kant said: “Nothing has been followed. While we came to the court there are people sitting in the middle of the road with banners of ‘Save Environment’. That’s why we say: Only popularity slogans.”

The court will hear the matter again o Friday.

According to the Ministry of Earth Sciences’ air quality monitor SAFAR, the air quality is likely to improve from Friday due to better wind speed.

AQIs of Delhi’s Neighbouring Cities

  • Faridabad 441 AQI
  • Noida 404 AQI
  • Greater Noida 381 AQI
  • Gurugram 361 AQI
  • Ghaziabad 359 AQI

From December 3, winds are expected to increase dispersing pollutants, but the AQI is likely to remain in the ‘very poor’ category. “Low mixing layer height is preventing efficient dispersion of pollutants,” SAFAR said in its advisory.