"Is this the Supreme Court or a joke court," an incensed apex court bench said on Monday annoyed over the lack of response of several state governments on crucial matters of public importance like pollution and cleanliness in mid-day meals.
"Is some kind of panchayat going on here that the states are not serious? Why are you joking with the Supreme Court like this? You will understand the importance only when we call your Chief Secretaries," the bench comprising Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud said.
"This is important business," it said after perusuing the files of the first two PILs listed before it for hearing. "Do we have some kind of a game going on here? If you (lawyers representing states) do not want to file your counter affidavits, then say that, we will record your statements," the bench added. The bench, after perusing the reports with regard to service of notices of the PILs to the states concerned, said if they want more time then they should stand and seek it.
The bench first took up the PIL, filed by Gujarat-based NGO 'Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti" on industrial pollution in 2012, for hearing and got irked after perusing the records which reflected that many states have not filed their replies despite several opportunities given. It then called out names of Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Kerala, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh and asked their counsel as to why counter affidavits have not yet been filed.
It granted four weeks to the states which appeared before it for the first time in the matter and summoned the Environment Secretaries with relevant records of these states, which had been served notice but had failed to file replies. It listed the matter for final disposal after four weeks. The bench then took up the second PIL, filed by NGO 'Antarashtriya Manav Adhikaar Nigraani' in 2013, regarding cleanliness in the mid-day meals and seeking directions to prevent incidents like the one that occurred in a government primary school in a Bihar village where 23 children died after eating contaminated food.
When the counsel for the petitioner sought an adjournment saying that the advocate-on-record was out of Delhi and will not be available till January 20, the bench got enraged. "Is it the Supreme Court or the joke court? This is important business... Who is the arguing counsel? You have made all the states as parties," it remarked and adjourned the hearing.
Earlier, the apex court had issued notices to the Centre and 12 states seeking their response on the steps taken to ensure cleanliness in the midday meal scheme and prevent incidents like the one that occurred in the Bihar village primary school.
The states included Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal, Assam, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Jharkhand. In over 12 lakh government-run and aided schools across the country, children receive free, cooked lunch every day but "they are constantly exposed to the risk of food poisoning and related health hazards due to a lack of mid-day meal infrastructure and proper monitoring of the scheme," the PIL had said.
The other PIL, which was taken as the first item today, pertained to industrial pollution. The apex court had issued notices to the Centre, the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the Central Pollution Control Board and Chief Secretaries of as many as 19 States, including Gujarat on an industrial pollution PIL filed NGO Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti.
The PIL had raised concerns over "massive" pollution of India's waterbodies, including groundwater and seawater around the coast that put at risk the health and livelihood of "millions of people, and the health of animals, flora and fauna."
Among several other things, the PIL sought the court's direction to respondents to ensure that no effluents and pollutants beyond the prescribed norms flow into any waterbody or seep into the soil. No industrial unit be permitted to function unless it has an effluent treatment plant that meets the norms, it said.
The petitioner was concerned over massive pollution, particularly in the rivers, waterbodies, as also in air and land in 43 of India's 'critically polluted clusters' and 32 'severely polluted clusters'. The 'critically polluted clusters', as defined by CPCB, included six places each in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, five in Maharashtra, four in Tamil Nadu, three each in Odisha, West Bengal and Rajasthan, two each in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana, one each in Kerala, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and parts of Delhi.
(Feature image source: PTI)