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"When we asked it to be completed within 3 months then why was it not complied with?", the Court asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
The Supreme Court today directed the Central government to file a detailed affidavit on why the Smog Tower project to deal with air pollution in Delhi was not completed within the given time frame.
The Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai, and Krishna Murari posed a number of questions to the Centre regarding the implementation of the project that was supposed to be overseen by Indian Institute of Technology (Bombay).
When the matter was taken up today, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that after yesterday's hearing, concerned persons at IIT Bombay, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and other technical consultants were contacted. He said,
"...we have an MoU which will be digitally signed.. all of them have said they will be bound by the MoU."
After asking that this understanding be placed on record, Justice Mishra went on to query,
"After we examined the proposal, areas were identified for work. Can you go back from that position?"
SG Mehta replied that this was a question for IIT Bombay to answer. Asking the Court to go through the MoU, he insisted that the Court's orders have been complied with.
Justice Mishra then asked,
"When we asked it to be completed within 3 months then why was it not complied with?"
"I have been informed that it is not physically possible to complete it."
The exchange went on, with the SG submitting,
"The drawing of the tower will be made available by IIT Bombay in 2 months. Technical part will take 3 months and setting it up will take 10 months."
"These things have been informed to us earlier...you are not saying anything new", said Justice Mishra.
When Mehta submitted that the technology has to come from Minnesota in the United States, the Court shot back,
"Why are you taking shelter of technology? Our orders have been violated and there is no intention to comply with it also."
The Court finally said,
An indignant Supreme Court on Wednesday threatened contempt action against IIT Bombay on learning that the institution has pulled out of a court-ordered project to install an experimental smog tower to curb air pollution in Delhi.
In its order passed yesterday, the Bench stated,
"...This is dillydallying tactics and violation of the order passed by this Court has already been committed at least by IIT.
We have to proceed against the IIT, Bombay as well as against the concerned persons for violating the order of this Court and backing out from the basis of the order which was passed by this Court. This is not expected of such institutions to act in the manner it is projected in the matter relating to public interest, it is shocking that such conduct is projected by such a public functionary. We are not at all happy with the state of affairs. We direct that the order to be complied with forthwith, otherwise it would be taken seriously."
SG Mehta stated that after IIT Bombay "backed out of the project", the government was now in touch with IIT Delhi and National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) for the project.
In the previous hearing last week, the Bench had taken a stern view against the Centre when it realised that its order of January 13 to install the tower at the busy Anand Vihar intersection has not been complied with even after seven months. The January 13 order directs the project to be completed in three months.
The government thereafter blamed IIT Bombay for not agreeing to “take the lead and responsibility” for the overall coordination of the ₹18.52-crore project and verification of the work to be carried out by Tata Projects Limited, which is the agency in charge the construction, operation and maintenance of the tower.
In its affidavit, the government had further stated that “several concessions” were made for the IIT Bombay and the Tata Projects, including a hike in the project cost from ₹15.46 crore to ₹18.52 crore and removal of a penalty clause in case of delay.
It was further averred that the CPCB had agreed to the additional cost of operation and maintenance, though the IIT Bombay proposal had “mentioned smooth operation of the facility for two years after commissioning and continuous monitoring of pollutants as one of the deliverables of the project”.
In December last year, the judges had also held a short discussion with an IIT Bombay Professor, who is part of the high-level committee examining various technologies, including smog guns, to combat air pollution.