'Are you waiting for pollution related deaths?' India's top court asks pollution control board

Commuters navigate through a major road engulfed in smog in New Delhi on November 7. Photograph:( AFP )

PTI New Delhi, Delhi, India Nov 10, 2016, 02.01 PM (IST)

"Do you want to wait till people start dying ... People are gasping for breath," India's supreme court asked the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) today, pulling it up for not having an action plan ready to deal with the "emergency" smog situation in the Indian capital and asking the Centre to list time-bound measures to tackle the worsening air quality.

The three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur criticised the CPCB for its "sluggish" response on the issue.

"Do you (CPCB) want to wait till people start dying? The response cannot be sluggish. People are gasping for breath. People are in such a situation and you are waiting," PTI reported the bench as saying.

"You must have plans. How will you have spread of stations (to monitor air quality) that will clear the picture? You need to immediately plan as to how many stations will be reasonable, looking into the importance of the situation. You must prepare a plan and tell us," the bench told CPCB chairman S P Singh Parihar.

"We want you to take into consideration all the different inputs which are coming and draw a plan where you can have a proper system, a proper centralised control room, a graded level of air quality and also the response to it. You have to evolve a consensus. You must not allow the things to go out of your hands," the bench added.

The bench has advised a meeting of all stakeholders with CPCB chairman to be held on November 19.

The board, in consultation with government, will prepare a detailed plan specifying measures and the authority responsible for implementing recommendations in a timebound manner to deal with the issue, the court said.

The  "emergency plan" will also comprise measures needed to tackle graded level of pollution and identify how many central pollution control units are required to have a clear picture of the air quality.

The Solicitor General (SG) told the bench that "all laws and regulations were in place but the implementing agencies were not able to do what they are required to do" to deal with the situation.

Parihar said they need more stations to cover industrial and commercial areas so that they can have more details about the air quality.

"You will have to tell us what will be graded air quality and how will you grade the air quality level as satisfactory, moderate, poor or severe. It may not be able to have an ideal situation in place like Delhi with so much of vehicles but there should be a plan in place," the apex court said.

Meanwhile, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) criticised the Indian government for its lackadaisical attitude.

"Governments elected by people have the least concern for the health of its citizens", the NGT today said as it passed a slew of directions including setting up of centralised and state level monitoring committees to prepare action plans to combat pollution in a bid to tackle environment emergencies.

The board asked Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan to consider banning 10-year-old diesel vehicles from plying on the roads, PTI reported.

Every state committee should, in their first meeting, notify one district where land use of agriculture is high and make it a model district for implementing orders to stop stubble burning, the board said.

Terming as "severe" levels of pollution when PM 10 and PM 2.5 are above 431 and 251 micrograms per cubic metre respectively in the ambient air, it said when air pollution takes such alarming proportions, immediate steps are needed to be taken as an environmental emergency.

It said that helicopters could be used to sprinkle water in the Delhi-NCR region.

(WION with inputs from agencies)