New Delhi: Concerned over worsening air quality in Delhi-NCR, the Supreme Court Friday appointed one man panel of retired apex court judge Justice M B Lokur to monitor the steps taken by the neighbouring states to prevent stubble burning, while brushing aside objections of the Centre, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.
The top court ordered deployment of National Cadet Corps (NCC), National Service Scheme (NSS) and Bharat Scouts and Guides for assisting in the monitoring of stubble burning in the agricultural fields of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi-NCR, saying all it wants is that people of Delhi-NCR can breathe fresh air without any pollution .
A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde directed the court-appointed Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) and chief secretaries of Delhi and the three states to assist the Lokur panel to enable physical surveillance of fields where stubble is burnt.
The bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian accepted the suggestion of senior advocate Vikas Singh, representing petitioner Aditya Dubey (minor) who has raised concern over rising pollution level, that a former Judge of this Court who is aware of the problem be appointed to monitor the situation in Delhi-NCR and these neighbouring states.
We, accordingly, accept the suggestion and appoint Justice Madan Lokur, a former Judge of this Court to act as the one man Monitoring Committee to monitor the measures taken by the States to prevent stubble burning.
The bench also directed the Chief Secretaries of the concerned states to assist the Justice Lokur panel in devising additional means and methods for preventing the burning of stubble.
We trust that the authorities in-charge of these forces shall enlist their services to the extent possible, to assist the one man Justice Lokur Committee for this purpose, it said.
The top court also clarified that the existing state-level teams for preventing stubble burning shall report to and take instructions from the committee.
The states shall provide adequate transportation to those whose services are enlisted by the Committee for patrolling the highways and surveying the stubble burning in the fields, it said.
Directing that the committee submit its fortnightly report to the top court at the initial stages or as and when found necessary, the bench said the authorities such as EPCA shall also render assistance to the panel and provide information sought by it.
To allay objections raised by some states including counsel for Punjab senior advocate P S Narasimha that statutory bodies are being sidestepped due to appointment of new committees, the bench clarified that appointment of this Committee and the directions in this order are not intended to dilute the powers, functions and the authority of any authorities such as EPCA, already created .
It said, The object of appointing a Committee is more to facilitate and coordinate the activities of different authorities so that the problem is resolved. The different authorities created by the States/Centre, shall also be free to carry on their own activities, without feeling muted by the appointment of the Committee .
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Centre, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana after the matter was over, told the bench that they may have some reservation over appointment of the one-man committee and urged that the EPCA should be the monitoring authority for preventing stubble burning.
"We have not given some extraordinary power to Justice Lokur, the bench said, adding, We have heard the states and you (Mehta) were not there when we were dictating order for half an hour .
During the hearing, ASG Aishwarya Bhati, who also appeared for the Centre, told the bench that the court may select the committee member from a panel of names.
During his tenure as an apex court judge, Justice Lokur who headed social-justice bench had dealt with pollution matters which included the aspect of stubble burning.
At the outset, senior advocate Vikas Singh, pointed out that there is a grave concern about the quality of air in Delhi-NCR and that the quality is dropping rapidly.
Narsimha and Additional Advocate general Anil Grover, representing Haryana pointed out that they have made an app which can help in identification and notification of stubble burning.
The top court told the counsels that it is necessary that there must be some monitoring of stubble burning with a view to its prevention before it assumes abnormal proportions .
While directing that Uttar Pradesh government be also made party in the case, the bench posted the matter for further hearing on October 26.
The top court is also hearing a PIL filed in 1985 by an environmentalist M C Mehta on air pollution and had last year even taken a suo motu note of alarming rise in air pollution in Delhi-NCR where several directions have been passed with regard to stubble burning.
On October 6, the apex court had sought responses from the Centre and others on the plea which has sought directions to ban stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana which causes massive air pollution in the national capital in winters.