People cannot be left to die in "gas chamber", the Supreme Court observed on November 25 while expressing serious displeasure over the failure of the state machinery to prevent stubble burning, and said Delhi-NCR citizens are "suffocating" due to air pollution.
While referring to the pollution level in Delhi, the apex court said that living in the national capital is "worse than Narak (hell)" as air quality is deteriorating year after year and now water pollution has also gone up.
An anguished court said that stubble burning was still going on in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh despite its order prohibiting it and asked as to why the government machineries of these states be not asked to compensate people, who are suffering from diseases like cancer and asthma, for their tortious act.
"Time has gone where we will keep on waiting. Why this is continuously happening?," a bench of justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta told chief secretary (CS) of Punjab who had appeared in the court in pursuance to the summon issued to him.
"As on today, stubble burning is still adding to eight per cent of the pollution in the region," the bench said, adding, "Why we should not impose fine on your state which will be recovered from officials right from top to bottom".
The bench told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, "Should this be tolerated? Is this not worst than internal war? Why people are in this gas chamber? If it is so then you better finish them with explosives. If it goes on like this then it would be better to go rather than suffer from diseases like cancer".
Slamming the Punjab government for their failure to stop stubble burning, the bench said, "This year you have contributed more right from the beginning. Has the state said that let the people die of cancer and we will not bother? Can this be the approach of any welfare state...can you treat people like this and permit them to die".
When the CS of Punjab told the court about the steps being taken by them to prevent stubble burning, the bench said it is the "failure" and "inaction" of the state and there is "no will power" to stop this.
"In the capital of the country, if you will create this kind of situation, how the people will survive. How the country will become a global power if you are not able to check these things," the bench said.
Punjab's CS said the state has distributed Rs 19 crore compensation to around 29,300 farmers who have not burnt stubble in their fields and they are monitoring the situation of crop residue burning with the help of satellites.
"The question is it does not mean that people of Delhi-NCR should suffer from cancer, lung cancer.... Life span of millions of people have being shortened due to this," the bench said, adding, "We all are suffocating in Delhi."
The bench also came down heavily on chief secretaries of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and asked them why stubble burning has increased in their states soon after the apex court's order prohibiting it.
It said that not only government machineries but farmers are also responsible for stubble burning.
When Haryana's CS said that stubble burning in the state has gone down by 65 percent, the bench said, "Why this has increased after our order? This is not fair that you are making wrong statement in court, that too in the Supreme Court. We have seen the satellite pictures".
"Do you want to show that Supreme Court can pass any order but the state will do whatever they want? You are making a mockery of everything. Why you should not be asked to pay compensation?," the bench said.
The bench also pulled up the chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh and asked why instances of stubble burning in the state, especially eastern Uttar Pradesh, has gone up in recent times.
When the chief secretary said that around 925 FIRs have been lodged in cases of stubble burning, the bench said, "This is negative action. What positive actions you have taken".
The top court also came down heavily on chief secretary of Delhi on the water pollution and lack of garbage disposal.
It took serious exception that Centre and Delhi government has indulged in "blame game" over recent report which alleged that supply water was not safe for drinking here.
"In Delhi, you are blaming each other for water pollution. If this is politically managed then it will be end of citizenry rights," the bench said, adding, "Will this blame game serve the people of Delhi? We are literally shocked. What is this happening".
"You are politicising the issue of pollution. You cannot let people die like this. People outside are laughing on this country that we are not able to deal with this," it said.
The bench asked Delhi chief secretary as to why the authorities have not been able to collect and dispose garbage which contributes to pollution.
The chief secretary said that there are around 1,700 unauthorised colonies in Delhi and division of power was also an issue here.
"We expect Delhi to be clean," the bench said.
"What was offered as compensation in Bhopal gas tragedy was not even one per cent of what people have got in other countries. Life is not then cheap in India?How much should you pay to each and every person? What is the value of life as per your assessment," the bench said.
The bench told Mehta and Additional Solicitor General A N S Nadkarni that government must come up with a comprehensive plan on use of smog towers in Delhi-NCR.
"We can create Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan and we have all the technologies. But here probably it is lack of will power," the bench said.