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India’s Supreme Court: states should ensure clean air and water or pay citizens a compensation

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  • India’s Supreme Court: states should ensure clean air and water or pay citizens compensation
    A dense toxic smog in New Delhi blocks out the sun. Image: Wikipedia

The Supreme Court of India has stated that ‘the right to life of humans is being endangered’ by increasing pollution, and called states to action, reports The Guardian. The justices have warned that state governments will have to pay damages if they do not provide clean air and water to citizens. They blame state governments for not addressing the problem, and declared that living without pollution is a constitutional right.

In particular, the authorities of a few states ─Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh─ were pinpointed as responsible for millions of residents in Delhi suffering toxic levels of smog. This month Delhi experienced some of the highest levels of air pollution on record, with the air quality index reaching more than 10 times the WHO safe level.

Water problems are also common in Delhi and Indian cities, where infrastructure to deliver water services cannot keep up with population growth. The world’s second largest city in 2018, by 2030 Delhi is expected to become the world’s largest city with close to 39 million people, according to UN estimates. The whole country is experiencing a water crisis that requires action in multiple fronts in order to improve water security.

Water and air pollution are intertwined, so policy action needs to look at comprehensive solutions, as a study pointed out last summer: measures to conserve groundwater ─India’s main source of drinking water─ led to additional air pollution in an area already affected by smog in north-western India.

Now the high court is giving state authorities six weeks to justify why they should not be held responsible for pollution problems. Supreme Court Justice Arun Mishra said ‘We have become a laughing stock’, ‘The government cannot provide clean air and water to the citizens in its capital city. What is the point of all this development? What is the point of being a world power?’