The Bombay High Court has taken a firm stance to address the worsening air pollution in Mumbai by temporarily banning the transportation of construction debris from construction sites for the next four days. The court, stressing the importance of the citizens’ health, issued a warning that if air quality does not show substantial improvement within this period, a complete ban on vehicles carrying construction debris during the Diwali festival will be imposed.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice DK Upadhyaya and Justice Girish Kulkarni also laid down regulations for the bursting of firecrackers during Diwali. According to the High Court’s directives, firecrackers will be allowed only between 7 pm and 10 pm.
In response to the rising air pollution levels and deteriorating air quality in the city, the court took suo motu cognizance of the issue and initially considered banning all vehicles carrying construction debris during the Diwali season.
However, Advocate General Birendra Saraf and BMC counsels Milind Sathe and Joel Carlos expressed concerns about the potential adverse impact on all construction activities and infrastructure projects in the city. In response, the court decided against imposing a total ban on firecrackers and left the choice to the citizens. They emphasized that the citizens must decide on the matter, considering various factors, including their rights under Article 25 (the right to freely practice, profess, and propagate religion, subject to certain restrictions).
Justice Kulkarni stated, “We have to make a choice. Either we have a disease-free environment or burn firecrackers and celebrate the festival… We have to take a call. The entire city is being affected in this manner.”
The High Court, in line with the National Green Tribunal order and the Supreme Court order of November 12, 2020, directed that bursting of firecrackers should occur only between 7 pm and 10 pm.
The court made it clear that the ward officer responsible for the lapse in the implementation of the action plan would be held accountable. Furthermore, the commissioners of BMC and MMR have been instructed to not only supervise the overall steps to be taken but also identify officers responsible for any shortcomings in the implementation of the action plan.
To ensure efficient monitoring of the actions taken by municipal corporations, the High Court established a two-member committee consisting of a senior officer from the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and the director of health services of the state government. These members will supervise and monitor the daily actions of all municipal corporations, who have been directed to submit daily reports.
The High Court has scheduled a hearing for November 10 and directed all municipal commissioners of BMC and MMR to file personal affidavits outlining the steps taken to address air pollution.
Senior advocate Darius Khambata, appointed as amicus curiae to assist the court, stressed the importance of developing short-term, medium-term, and long-term plans to curb air pollution, emphasizing that the issue has become a matter of life and death and affects the fundamental right to life.
In response to the urgency of the situation, the court directed the chief secretaries of the home department and the ministry of environment and the chief secretary of public health, as well as other relevant authorities, to be added as respondents to the plea.