Writing for Scroll.in, Shoaib Daniyal says that “Pollution is certainly a terrible problem facing Delhi. But a court, instituted to protect the law, not make policy, should not involve itself in it.”
He was speaking specifically about the Supreme Court’s recent orders to the central and state governments on how to tackle the lethal levels of air pollution in the Delhi-NCR region, and argued that “given that courts are not elected bodies, the idea of judges framing policy is troubling from a democratic point of view.”
Daniyal makes several valid points: The Supreme Court’s orders were indeed ‘lightning judgements’, and contained no inputs from experts. Essentially, they were purely reactionary, and certainly went above and beyond the mandate of the judiciary in a democratic setup.
However, Delhi’s air pollution data was (is) in the public domain: the newspapers and newblogs all carried the figures. 21 of the 37 air quality monitoring stations in Delhi recorded the AQI between 490 and 500 with air quality sensors at Aya Nagar, Ashok Vihar, Anand Vihar and Aurobindo Marg peaked out at 7 pm. In the Delhi-NCR, Faridabad with AQI (493), Noida (494), Ghaziabad (499) and Greater Noida (488), Gurugram (479), also breathed extremely polluted air. Therefore, Daniyal’s claim that no data was considered in the court’s judgement is not quite accurate.
As a former Delhi resident, this author has experienced the sheer ordeal of living there during the weeks post-Diwali- breathing is painful, whether you’re indoors or outdoors. Smoke and dust are heavy in the air, and mask or no mask, that stuff is in your lungs. Where it really isn’t supposed to be.
Immediate, decisive action was the need of the hour, and the apex court delivered what the government(s) should have, but never did.
Despite years of opportunity, both the central and state governments have neglected to find a lasting, sustainable solution to Delhi’s dangerously poor air quality. Construction dust, vehicular pollution and stubble burning are all responsible to varying degrees, and those who had the mandate and the power to address them did not do so. So were the citizens of Delhi supposed to suffer until they did?
The judiciary in a democracy is meant to safeguard the Constitution- to ensure that the laws are upheld by the Legislature and Executive in their functioning; if the judiciary cannot step in to protect the people who elected the government(s) in question and whose rights the Constitution is meant to protect, then of what use is it, beyond trials and cases?
‘Due process’ has its place, as do the tenets of democracy. But should the letter of the law take precedence over its spirit? As the final arbitrator and safeguard of the Constitution, the Supreme Court, through its actions, has made its stand clear: its priority is the people of this country.
Perhaps it was not the way of a democratic country. But it was the need of the hour.