The Supreme Court on Wednesday lashed out at the authorities for failing to curb severe air pollution in the Delhi-NCR region, and said it is a question of life and death of crores of people here but it is "very unfortunate" that they are not bothered about poor people and letting them die.
"Can you permit people to die like this due to pollution? Can you permit the country to go back by 100 years," observed a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra while directing the governments of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to provide support of Rs 100/quintal within 7 days to small and marginal farmers who have not burned the stubble -- a major source of air pollution.
Coming down heavily on the state governments, the top court said that if they don't bother about people, they have no right to be in power.
"You (states) have forgotten the concept of welfare government. They are not bothered about poor people, this is very unfortunate," said the bench, also comprising Justice Deepak Gupta.
"You just want to sit in your ivory towers and rule. You are not bothered and are letting the people die," the bench said.
Supreme Court To Centre: Attorney General KK Venugopal, representing the Centre, told the court that farmers can be allowed to burn stubble with certain conditions. The Supreme Court completely rejected the AG's plea. It said this is a question of lives of crores of people. "We cannot allow this."
The AG had suggested to the court that Punjab and Haryana be divided into zones and each zone could be allowed to burn stubble in a few days.
Justice Arun Mishra said why the government is not giving any better suggestion to deal with the problem. Burning the stubble is completely wrong. The AG of a democratic country cannot make such suggestions. “Why don't the Center and the state come together to find a solution.”
Supreme Court To Punjab: The Chief Secretary of Punjab told the court that more than 18,000 machines have been distributed to farmers. Justice Arun Mishra asked: “Why did you wait till September to distribute the machine. Why did you start working late? For this reason, all the machines have not been distributed so far.”
Justice Arun Mishra said: “Punishing the farmers is not a solution. This will only create problems in the law system in the state. Make them aware, give them money.”
Justice Mishra asked the Chief Secretary what steps were taken to purchase the stubble. The Chief Secretary replied that this is the responsibility of the Centre.
Justice Mishra said: “Once again you are putting the responsibility at the Centre. Why are you in the position of Chief Secretary when you cannot do anything? If you can’t do anything, let the Centre do all the work. We will suspend you right here.”
Justice Mishra told the Chief Secretary: You are also the government. The responsibility of everything cannot be put at the Centre. Running the country is not the work of the court, but if you cannot do it then the court will do it. Then there will be no need of the government.”
The Supreme Court told Punjab: “You have money for everything, but there is no money for poor farmers. But let us make it clear that self-declared bankruptcy is not an excuse for us.”
The Supreme Court gave seven-day deadline to the Punjab government to prepare a roadmap to stop pollution.
Supreme Court to Haryana: The court asked the Chief Secretary of Haryana why the stubble is still being burnt.
The Chief Secretary said: “Farmers have machinery, but it costs Rs 2000, but there is no cost to burn the stubble.”
Justice Mishra said: “It means you have also failed. You want to hear the same thing that has been said to the Chief Secretary of Punjab.”
The Chief Secretary said ‘gram sabha’ meetings were held. Efforts are on to make people aware.
Justice Mishra said: “Now you are making people aware. So, your condition is worse than Punjab. Punjab had started the work of making people aware from January itself. Now the time to make people aware is over. It’s time to take appropriate steps to buy subble.”
The court directed the Haryana Chief Secretary that in the next seven days, you should take all steps to buy stubble. Spend whatever money you need to buy stubble. Precious time is already wasted.
Supreme Court to UP: The court asked: “Why is the stubble in your state being burnt? What steps have been taken to stop that?
When the Chief Secretary of UP started introducing himself, Justice Arun Mishra interrupted. “We are not interested in knowing your name,” Mishra said.
After that, the Chief Secretary started his statement by saying that the burning of stubble is wrong.
Justice Mishra interrupted again, saying: “We do not want lecture from you.”
“Has your government failed to stop burning stubble? In reality, there is a need to make the Chief Secretary aware rather than the farmers,” he continued.
Supreme Court to Delhi: The court asked the Chief Secretary of Delhi: “If you cannot deal with problems like road dust, construction, demolition, dumping in the national capital, then why are you working on this post. It is the capital of the country. It cannot be ignored like this.”
The court said the Chief Secretary that had there been no monitoring committee, you would have destroyed Delhi.