File photo of school girls wearing anti-air pollution masks as protective gear after pollution reached hazardous levels in Gurgaon, back in May 2016. (Press Trust of India)

The Delhi High Court gave an urgent hearing, June 15, on a plea which dubbed the air pollution in the national capital as “emergency-like situation” and sought answers from the Delhi government and state pollution control committee on the measures taken to curb it.

The high court said that the matter brought before it was a “very large issue” which has to be deliberated upon in detail and no interim relief could be granted on the petition by a vacation bench.

“What is the urgency? It is a PIL. What is so threatening in the evening? This is a very large issue. How can we take it up in the vacation,” asked a vacation bench comprising justices Sangeeta Dhingra Sehgal and C. Hari Shankar which heard the petition late in the evening.

The bench had assembled at 8.14 PM to begin hearing the matter at 8.17 PM which was concluded at 8.25 PM.

File photo of commuters in New Delhi which is covered with dense smog as pollution hit hazardous levels back in 2016. (Press Trust of India)

During the hearing, the bench observed that since the petitioners have not filed any application seeking interim relief, it cannot “do anything more except issuing a notice” and sought the replies of the Delhi government and Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) by July 25, the next date of hearing.

The petition, filed by students Mihir Garg and Rashi Jain in wake of the prevailing severe air pollution that has engulfed the national capital for the last couple of days, was responded to by the Delhi government which said that pollution was “not man-made” as the dust storm from Rajasthan was “very strong.”

The counsel appearing for the petitioners shared the photographs of construction activities at the Patiala House district courts complex here and claimed that it was going in violation of the order passed by the Lieutenant Governor (LG) banning all civil construction works.

He said that if the construction work would go on, the pollution level would not come down.

Advocate Naushad A. Khan, appearing for Delhi government, said that the petitioners have raised a valid point and the LG had ordered that construction activities be stopped immediately, and all major stakeholders were informed that there should not be any construction in the national capital.

When the petitioners raised the issue of construction works at Patiala House courts complex, the bench observed, “you are pointing out that construction was going on in the Patiala House courts but you have not made them a party.” 

File photo of Indian men playing cricket amid heavy smog in New Delhi, Oct. 2017. (Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images)

“Suppose we pass order against the Patiala House courts authority, are they a party here? Can we pass orders against them like this,” the bench said.

The plea has sought implementation of the odd-even scheme of using vehicles along with several other directions to the authorities, including using vacuum cleaners to suck dust from the roads.

It has also sought directions to stop the functioning of heavy industries, brick kilns, Bardarpur Thermal power plant and all the coal-based tandoors in the city and using water cannons to bring down the pollution level.

The petition has urged the high court to issue directions to the AAP government and the DPCC to ban transportation of construction materials in the city until the situation becomes normal and install dust and air purifiers.

“Direct the respondents (Delhi government and DPCC) to use water cannon so as to tackle the air pollution… direct the respondents to adopt odd/even policy without any exemptions till the situation comes under control,” the petition has said. 

“It has become impossible for any person in Delhi to breathe properly and walk over the streets without having an apprehension of death due to air pollution or inheriting serious diseases like cancer,” the plea has said.

“Living atmosphere in Delhi similar to a gas chamber because of failure on the part of respondents to perform necessary functions so as to carry out essential functions during the course of emergency situations like this,” it said, adding that the petitioners had waited for two days for the authorities to take adequate steps to combat the situation.