The Bombay High Court recently took substantial steps to address the escalating concerns regarding air pollution in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). These interventions aimed at curbing pollution included tighter regulations on firecracker bursting and advocated stringent measures to tackle the pervasive pollution crisis.

Responding to a prior directive from the Supreme Court in Arjun Gopal v. Union of India, the Bombay High Court reduced the window for firecracker bursting within the MMR to a designated period of 8 PM – 10 PM. The Court highlighted the significance of the Supreme Court’s order, which specified particular times and locations for the bursting of firecrackers. Furthermore, the Court emphasized the gravity of the situation, asserting that the sale of banned firecrackers would hold the senior police inspector personally responsible.

The division bench, led by Chief Justice Devendra Kumar Upadhyaya and Justice GS Kulkarni, expressed dissatisfaction with the delayed response of the state government to the pressing issue of air pollution. The Court underscored that it’s not a favor but the duty of civic authorities to ensure the well-being of the city’s residents. It urged the establishment of a statutory mechanism to combat air pollution, stressing the immediate need for comprehensive action to address the crisis effectively.

In a proactive measure, a suo moto Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on air pollution led the Court to impose a ban on construction debris transportation until the Diwali festival and limited the time frame for firecracker bursting from 7 PM to 10 PM.

Presenting an affidavit on behalf of the BrihanmumbaiMunicipal Corporation (BMC), Senior Advocate Milind Sathedetailed pollution control measures implemented, such as ceasing road cleaning activities and the operations of goldsmiths in the city center. While highlighting the adherence of major infrastructure projects to pollution guidelines, Sathe sought relaxation on the ban concerning debris transportation. However, the Court refused this request, noting that notices for non-compliance with pollution guidelines were issued to 1065 out of 1623 construction sites, underscoring the severity of the situation.

The Court emphasized the immediate need for stringent actions to address the pollution crisis, given the widespread non-compliance at construction sites, thereby highlighting the urgency for effective and impactful measures.

In furtherance of their commitment to combat pollution, the Court stressed the requirement for a statutory mechanism and urged the state to establish a dedicated commission for monitoring air quality, akin to the Commission for Air Quality Management formed for the National Capital Region. This proposed commission would be empowered to regulate activities contributing to air pollution, coordinate actions, and address various sources of pollution.

Advocate General of Maharashtra, Dr. Birendra Saraf, provided compliance affidavits from authorities, noting an improved Air Quality Index, although the Court attributed this improvement primarily to recent rains.

Acknowledging the critical implications of air pollution on public health, especially concerning the rising cases of respiratory diseases, Justice GS Kulkarni underscored the necessity for comprehensive studies on pollution causes and remedies, expressing concern over the effectiveness of existing measures like water sprinkling.

Highlighting the harmful effects of air pollution, the Court flagged concerns over the sale of crackers containing banned chemicals and revised the monitoring committee’s composition. Now comprising NEERI and IIT-nominated experts and a retired Principal Secretary, the committee will collect daily reports from all Municipal Corporations in MMR on pollution control measures, preparing weekly reports for submission to the Advocate General.

The Court extended the ban on debris transportation until November 19, underlining the severity and urgency of addressing the pressing pollution concerns.

The harmful effects of air pollution are multifaceted, encompassing adverse impacts on public health, the environment, and various economic sectors. It leads to an increased incidence of respiratory diseases, cardiovascular issues, environmental degradation, and economic losses. The Court emphasized the need for collective and stringent action to combat pollution and safeguard public health and the environment.

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