The Supreme Court, on Wednesday, warned of contempt proceedings against IIT Bombay for backing out of the proposal to construct a smog tower in Delhi to combat air pollution.
A three-judge bench, headed by justice Arun Mishra, was particularly angry after solicitor general Tushar Mehta informed the court that IIT Bombay had expressed unwillingness to take responsibility for the project.
“How can they back out from a central government project after this court passed orders? Is it a child’s game? We will not tolerate this nonsense. We will draw contempt proceedings against them,” a livid justice Mishra remarked during the hearing of a case concerning air pollution in the national capital.
The court during the last hearing, on July 21, had asked the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with IIT Bombay and Tata Projects Limited within seven days for installation of smog tower in Delhi.
Non-compliance with this order of July 21 incensed the bench on Wednesday which said that if IIT Bombay had any issues, it should have informed the bench in January of the same and not after six months.
“We will punish IIT Bombay. How can they back out after six months?” justice Mishra said.
Tushar Mehta, however, told the court on Wednesday that the Centre was exploring new options with National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and IIT Delhi since IIT Bombay had backed out but the court found the suggestion unacceptable.
Justice Mishra was particularly incensed.
“We will proceed against IIT Bombay. I cannot tolerate this nonsense,” he said.
The bench, which also comprised justices Vineet Saran and MR Shah, insisted Mehta to talk to the IIT officials and get back to the court with instructions within 15 minutes. Mehta, however, expressed his inability to obtain instructions at such a short notice and requested the court to grant time till tomorrow.
“How can I take instructions within 15 minutes? I don’t know anyone there (IIT Bombay),” Mehta replied.
“We are not happy with IIT Bombay for violating the order of this court and for backing out,” the court said, posting the case for tomorrow when IIT Bombay is expected to respond to the court.
Calls to IIT Bombay’s public relations office went unanswered.
Rising pollution levels in national capital despite various orders by the Supreme Court had incensed the apex court during a hearing on November 25 last year. The court had then asked the CPCB and the states of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to take a concrete decision on installation and operation of smog towers to control pollution. It had also asked the centre to constitute a high-level committee to study the use and feasibility of various technologies.
A high level committee was constituted by the centre two days later on November 27 to examine and implement various technological options to arrest air pollution in the capital.
The Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) had then proposed installation of smog towers as a pilot project in collaboration with IIT Bombay. Subsequently, the top court had on January 13 given green signal for the proposal and asked CPCB to install a smog tower at Anand Vihar in east Delhi within three months. Another order was passed on February 28 to start work on smog towers and intimate the court about its status by March 6.
The CPCB initiated various rounds of talks with IIT Mumbai regarding the project and three versions of MoU were exchanged between CPCB and IIT. However, the talks bore no fruition as IIT was not ready to take overall responsibility for the project including verification of works carried out by Tata Projects Limited (which was involved by IIT for construction, operation and maintenance of smog tower).
The MoEF and the CPCB then filed an affidavit before the apex court on July 20 stating that the work on smog tower could not commence due to a deadlock with IIT regarding the finalisation of the terms and conditions of the proposed MoU.
The IIT was not willing to take up overall responsibility for the installation of the tower even though the project itself was conceptualised and developed by IIT in co-ordination with various other partners/agencies, the CPCB said in its affidavit.
Due to the same, the MoU has not been signed so far and ground work for installation of tower could not commence, it was submitted.
The top court, however, refused to accept the stance by the CPCB during the hearing on July 21 and ordered signing of MoU with IIT Bombay within seven days.