Ad hocism begets no holistic solution

Ad hocism begets no holistic solution
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Ad hocism begets no holistic solution

Highlights

Apex Court asks for time-bound result-oriented pragmatic action plan

The Supreme Court had recently asked the Centre and the NCR (National Capital Region) States to continue with the measures already suggested to tackle the air pollution in the national capital and mooted a scientific approach, based on a statistical model to alleviate the situation in the long run.

"All these are ad hoc measures… Response has to be based on a statistical model for Delhi… The Commission (for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas) has to set up a scientific study… There has to be a statistical model which says if these are the steps we take in the next seven days given the wind directions, these are the advantages we can get," Justice D Y Chandrachud of a three-member bench headed by the Chief Justice of India N V Ramana, said.

Justice Chandrachud further said, "this is the national capital. Look at the signal we are sending to the world. The response has to be based on a statistical model for Delhi… You don't have to wait till air quality becomes severe. You anticipate it's likely to happen with this wind pattern… You will have to define what are the acceptable levels of pollution in Delhi… So, you have to make models for different seasons… A scientific model based on seasons and wind direction has to be made… The Indian Meteorological Department has data of past years. Based on what it was for the last five years, a model can be prepared, how it will be in the next 15 days," adding that a graded response would be required.

The government always responded to the pollution by blaming the farmers of adjacent Haryana and Punjab. Politics had always played a major role in shaping the argument about farmers with different parties ruling these different States. Some laws were made and put in place and the common man continued to suffer.

Air pollution, resulting from hazardous PM2.5 fine particulate matter, claimed around 54,000 deaths in Delhi in 2020. The contamination levels in the national capital remained almost six times above the specified WHO (World Health Organization) limits, according to a Greenpeace Southeast Asia analysis of IQAir data.

The study further stated that approximately 1,800 deaths per million were caused by PM2.5 air pollution in Delhi. Fine particulate matter PM2.5 is an air pollutant smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. When inhaled, the fine particles penetrate deep into one's lungs causing heart and lung disease.

In 1984-85, a lawyer named MC Mehta filed a bunch of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) cases in the Supreme Court of India. These cases were fated to be landmarks in the history of PIL in India and are generally discussed as the archetypical environmental PILs, which set the pace of judicial intervention in urban governance and environmental regulation.

Writ Petition (Civil) 13029/1985, better known as the Delhi vehicular pollution case, was to lead to a complete overhaul of public and private transport in the city. Its impact started to be felt with a series of orders in the mid-1990s. Its initial orders included the phasing-out of leaded gasoline, the introduction of pre-mixed fuels for two-stroke engine vehicles and the removal of 15-year-old commercial vehicles. But soon-to-come in this case was the most famous of its decisions—to order all commercial public transport vehicles to change from diesel or petrol to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), which was seen as a "green" fuel.

Yet, the air quality only dipped further in Delhi with each passing year. It is so because this pollution is not just because of farmers, not just because of vehicles and or industries (PILs were filed against these too). Construction activity in and around Delhi has also given rise to pollution. PILs were filed by Mehta against all these.

Gopal Sankaranarayanan, Co-Founder, Care for Air, an NGO of Delhi, recently wrote an open letter to the Judges of the Supreme Court wherein he raised several questions. Care for Air has asked several pertinent questions. The ad hoc policies adopted by our government do not address any issue holistically. These questions prove this point once again.

The contentious points raised are as follows:

l Why was the Union's Auto Policy pushing off the transition to BS-VI fuel by seven years when the world's largest refineries of Reliance and Essar perched right here on the Gujarat coast were sending that very fuel abroad for private profit?

l Why was the diesel subsidy being misused by millionaires buying SUVs so that Delhi had more diesel 4-wheelers than petrol?

l Why did India have the highest import duty of 125% on electric cars? (USA is 2.5% and Singapore is 0%)

l Why were fossil-fired plants allowed to operate without Flu Gas Desulfurization (FGD) in place?

l Why was no action being taken when construction material and malba were dumped in the open without any liability being fixed?

l Why were firework permits being granted when carcinogenic chemicals were being used by an industry which Kailash Satyarthi certifies continues to employ child labour?

Unfortunately, the petition filed by the organization could attract the attention to the firecrackers part more. Entire focus of the nation got confined to this one aspect.

It is high time the government got serious – real serious about the problem. Cosmetic changes to law won't help the people. Those who are contributing to the pollution of Delhi and other cities are the real anti-nationals. If any, sedition laws should be applied against them along with all kinds of anti-terror laws of the country, not for mere difference of opinion.

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