‘NGT or­ders im­pos­si­ble to en­force’

The Sunday Guardian - - The Big Story - CON­TIN­UED FROM P1

ment di­rec­tive of ex­empt­ing women and two wheel­ers from the scheme. This led to the Delhi gov­ern­ment with­draw­ing the odd-even scheme, cit­ing the lack of in­fra­struc­ture to bear the ad­di­tional bur­den of lakhs of twowheeler rid­ers, who would be us­ing pub­lic trans­port in the odd-even pe­riod. The NGT also said that ev­ery time Delhi’s pol­lu­tion level crossed the “danger” mark, which is pegged at AQI 300, the road ra­tioning scheme should be im­ple­mented within 48 hours. “Delhi gov­ern­ment is free to im­ple­ment the odd­e­ven car ra­tioning scheme with the sub­ject to con­di­tions. The odd-even scheme will be au­to­mat­i­cally im­ple­mented in Delhi and NCR as and when PM 10 crosses 300 level and PM 2.5 crosses 500,” said a bench headed by NGT chair­per­son Jus­tice Swatan­ter Ku­mar. If this is to be im­ple­mented, the odd-even scheme would be a per­ma­nent fix­ture in the cal­en­dar of Delhi and the whole of Na­tional Cap­i­tal Re­gion, ob­servers pointed out, as the air qual­ity is above the danger mark al­most through­out the year. How­ever, this would also in­con­ve­nience com­muters and tremen­dously hurt busi­ness and other ac­tiv­i­ties in the whole of Delhi-NCR.

Ob­servers and en­vi­ron­men­tal ex­perts said that the cur­rent dense smog in the re­gion showed that NGT’s or­ders were not be­ing en­forced on the ground.

Le­gal ex­perts and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists said that NGT was a tri­bunal and had its own lim­i­ta­tions in en­sur­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion of its or­ders. They fur­ther said that NGT should seek col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­forts from the im­ple­ment­ing agen­cies. Se­condly, or­ders have to be more “rea­son­able” and “tech­ni­cally sound” for their ef­fec­tive im­ple­men­ta­tion. “You ban the en­try of diesel trucks in Delhi with­out as­sess­ing the ca­pac­ity and man­power avail­able at the check­points. Also, you go on to ban the tra­di­tional prac­tice of burn­ing crops with­out lay­ing a solid cost-ef­fec­tive al­ter­na­tive for the farm­ers. In­stead, there needs to be a wider ap­proach to mit­i­gate en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges,” Shishir Pi­naki, a se­nior lawyer at the Supreme Court, told The Sun­day Guardian. An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by The Sun- day Guardian in Kirti Na­gar, Kid­wai Na­gar, Govin­d­puri, and Nehru Place re­vealed that none of the pre­vi­ous or­ders of the NGT, such as the ban on diesel gen­er­a­tors, construction ac­tiv­i­ties, in­dus­trial ac­tiv­i­ties caus­ing emis­sions, us­age of poly­thene bags and en­try of trucks older than 10 years, was be­ing im­ple­mented.

Even on Thurs­day, when the Air Qual­ity In­dex (AQI), which mea­sures the con­cen­tra­tion of pol­lu­tants in the air, clocked at more than 450 in some parts of the city, construction ac­tiv­i­ties were still un­der­way in sev­eral parts of the na­tional cap­i­tal.

Construction ac­tiv­ity at the re­de­vel­op­ment site of Kid­wai Na­gar in South Delhi, which is be­ing un­der­taken by the Na­tional Build­ings Construction Cor­po­ra­tion Lim­ited (NBCC), was go­ing on in full swing and construction work­ers re­mained un­aware of any such ban.

Delhi Metro construction work was also go­ing on at dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions.

Even the ban on diesel gen­er­a­tors, which con­trib­ute ni­trous ox­ide to the air, was not be­ing im­ple­mented se­ri­ously. Ban­quet halls and even sev­eral shop­keep­ers in the city are still us­ing diesel gen­er­a­tors. Also, hardly any­thing was be­ing done to ar­rest dust pol­lu­tion by ei­ther vac­uum clean­ing the roads or sprin­kling wa­ter. How­ever, Radha Kr­ish­nan, spokesper­son of the South Delhi Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion, claimed, “We have been vac­uum clean­ing the roads for the last one month. We have five ma­chines that are on the field and work­ing. We have also been tak­ing mea­sures to sprin­kle wa­ter from time to time at dif­fer­ent places.”

Fur­ther­more, de­spite NGT’s 2015 or­der ban­ning crop burn­ing in paddy fields, there has been a dra­matic rise in stub­ble burn­ing in Pun­jab, Haryana and Ut­tar Pradesh. Ac­cord­ing to Na­tional Aero­nau­tics and Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion (NASA) data, crop burn­ing in­ten­si­fied on 27, 29 and 31 Oc­to­ber, par­tic­u­larly in Pun­jab.

Ex­perts said that the ban­ning of crop burn­ing with­out sub­sti­tut­ing it with a cost­ef­fec­tive method would not yield any re­sults. “Crop burn­ing comes into the in­put cost of the farm­ers. Un­less there is an al­ter­na­tive cost-ef­fec­tive mech­a­nism to dis­pose of the crop residues, they wouldn’t stop the prac­tice. Also, will you pun­ish the en­tire of Pun­jab or Ut­tar Pradesh for flout­ing the or­der?” rea­soned Supreme Court ad­vo­cate Vi­jay Pal Dalmia. Ex­perts said that the need of the hour was a much wider ap­proach, rather than “stay or­ders” or “blan­ket bans”. “Law has only one thumb rule, do not pass an or­der that can­not be im­ple­mented, be­cause it will lead to the dis­re­spect of the courts. If you pass a sweep­ing or­der with­out proper de­lib­er­a­tion with the stake­hold­ers, then im­ple­men­ta­tion of such an or­der would be patchy,” noted Dalmia. “While chal­leng­ing NGT or­ders in higher courts, par­ties have ar­gued that their con­cerns, ca­pac­i­ties and lim­i­ta­tions were not heard be­fore pass­ing an or­der. For in­stance, is it prac­ti­cally pos­si­ble to stop all small and big in­dus­tries in NCR? The en­tire econ­omy will come to a stand­still,” Dalmia added. Com­ment­ing on t he in­creas­ing num­ber of in­stances where NGT or­ders were be­ing chal­lenged in higher courts, TISS pro­fes­sor Gee­tan­joy Sahu said, “NGT has sev­eral in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal chal­lenges. Firstly, they don’t have the mech­a­nism to en­sure the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the or­der. Se­condly, their or­ders can be chal­lenged in the High Court and the Supreme Court. In fact, we have seen the HC as­sert­ing its su­pe­ri­or­ity by stat­ing that ‘High Court is a con­sti­tu­tional body, while NGT is a statu­tory body’. Thirdly, ap­point­ments are a big is­sue. They are not func­tion­ing with their full strength and do not have the va­ri­ety of sci­en­tists and ex­perts they need, to ad­dress the ris­ing num­ber of en­vi­ron­ment cases. Fourthly, there is a lack of co­or­di­na­tion among sev­eral highly po­tent agen­cies, crafted es­pe­cially to mit­i­gate en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues.”

How­ever, as Shibani Ghosh, a pub­lic in­ter­est lawyer spe­cial­is­ing in en­vi­ron­men­tal and ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion laws, said, “It is true that some of the or­ders of the NGT have weak ev­i­den­tiary ba­sis. But to stop the rapidly de­clin­ing qual­ity of our en­vi­ron­ment and to shake the (mostly) ap­a­thetic ex­ec­u­tive agen­cies, the NGT oc­ca­sion­ally has to give a wake-up call.”

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