"Why do you call it air emergency? This is worse than 'The Emergency'. Emergency days were better," said a shocked Justice Arun Mishra at the appalling state of affairs where the Centre and state governments were at loggerheads instead of acting together in curbing air pollution, especially in the case of stopping stubble burning.
In 1975 on June 26, then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed proclaimed a national emergency across India which lasted for 21 months. As a consequence, elections were suspended and civil liberties were curbed. This period is considered one of the most controversial times in the history of independent India. Then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's opponents were imprisoned and the press was censored.
Justice Mishra said the time has come to fix accountability and stop the violation of Article 21 of the Constitution, where "Protection of life and personal liberty is prioritised and no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedures established by law."
The court's observation came during the argument on the actions of farmers which has caged the Delhi-NCR in an envelope of smog having severe health impact.
A public health emergency has been declared in Delhi-NCR region in the backdrop of depleting air quality, where the air quality index (AQI) has breached the severe+ category. Justice Mishra also emphasised that no farmer, who is engaged in stubble burning, has the right to violate other people's rights.
"This is damaging humanity," said Justice Mishra citing the menace of air pollution. The period of 'The Emergency' is also considered a dark period for human rights violation. Justice Mishra reiterated that due to air pollution "people are dying and crying" as the agencies concerned have left them helpless.
The court observed the Centre and state governments are not performing their duties to safeguard public health. "Shocking state of affairs. Scientific data regarding poor air quality is published every day. People are being advised to not come back to Delhi.... why are we not able to create a situation which is pollution-free for everyone? It is writ large that state government and civic bodies have failed to comply with the court's direction. Court's directions have been violated with impunity," observed the court.
Justice Mishra said the court order on pollution today shall be given the widest publicity by all means - TV, media, radio. "Publicity should be made at the local administration level. Let state governments take measures to stop stubble burning. High-level committee should meet today," said the court in its order.