India’s top court intervenes over Delhi’s toxic air: ‘People cannot be made to die’

‘The pollution level must come down, it cannot await tomorrow,’ court says

Arpan Rai
Friday 10 November 2023 10:30 GMT
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Louise Thomas

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India‘s Supreme Court on Friday mandated a halt in crop residue burning in Delhi’s neighbouring states amid worsening air pollution in the national capital.

On Friday, heavy overnight rains brought some relief to millions struggling to cope as a toxic haze blanketed the National Capital Region (NCR) for more than a week due to the annual air crisis triggered by pollution, farm fires, and poor weather conditions.

“God may have heard the prayers of people and intervened, no thanks to the government,” said Supreme Court justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul.

Thursday night’s rains brought down the Air Quality Index (AQI) readings from 400+ to around 160 on Friday afternoon.

Talking about the farm fires which have often been blamed as one of the leading factors behind the pollution, the court said the society needs to be responsive to farmers’ needs, while farm owners also need to be more responsible as they are a part of the society.

“The farm fires must stop. It’s your business how it occurs… The decline must go on during the Diwali holidays,” the court said, as reported by Bar and Bench. The matter has been posted for 21 November.

“People cannot be made to die,” the court noted on Friday, two days before Diwali festival in the country when experts are speculating a major hit to the air in the city from firecrackers and rising pollution levels.

“The pollution level must come down, it cannot await tomorrow (sic),” the court noted, and ordered governments of northern Indian states to take action.

Delhi’s air is engulfed with smog as courts are forced to intervene amid abysmal policy action from federal and state governments. Doctors have warned of rising cases of respiratory illnesses and shortening of life spans caused by the air pollution.

Every year the city shuts all schools and sends millions of children indoors to avoid exposure to the air which doctors have said is akin to “smoking 25-30 cigarettes per day”. The Delhi government halted construction activities after the capital city was plunged into an air catastrophe and imposed restrictions on vehicle use.

In a new solution this year, the city’s leaders were looking to induce artificial rain around 20 November depending on legal approval and weather conditions.

"There is a possibility that, if current weather conditions persist, then this week or till some time in the future the pollution situation will remain the same," Delhi’s environment minister Gopal Rai said.

"I believe that given the conditions we have and if we get support from everyone, we can do the first pilot at least," he said.

The administration wants to seed clouds with substances like silver iodine to induce precipitation. This artificial rain will help bring down the trapped air pollutants, officials claim.

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