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Centre, states must forget politics and see how crop residue burning can be stopped: SC

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New Delhi: The Centre and the states must “forget politics” and apply their minds to see how crop residue burning can be stopped, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday while observing that people will be affected due to air pollution if the blame game continues.

The Punjab government told the apex court that 984 FIRs have been lodged against land owners over crop residue burning, environment compensation charge amounting to over Rs two crore has been imposed and recovery of about Rs 18 lakh has been made.

“The states and Union must forget politics of it and apply their minds to it to see how to stop it (residue burning). That is the bottom line,” the bench said while referring to crop residue burning.

“People are not concerned with how you do it and what you do and the court’s job is not to get into the nitty-gritty. The court’s job is to make you do your job, which is to stop pollution. How you do it is your problem,” a bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia said.

It was informed by senior advocate Aparajita Singh, who is assisting the top court as an amicus curiae in the pollution matter, that even on Sunday, over 700 farm fire incidents were reported from Punjab.

“The only person who can answer this is the farmers. He can tell you why he is doing it. He is not here. The farmer is being made a villain and the villain has not been heard,” the bench observed, adding, “He (farmer) must be having some reasons”.

The top court was hearing a matter related to crippling air pollution that chokes the Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR) every winter.

Besides the issue concerning crop residue burning, the bench also took up other matters like the one related to open waste burning in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.

The bench asked Delhi and Uttar Pradesh governments to take action in this regard and file reports before it.

During the hearing, the apex court referred to the declining water table in Punjab and said the land there was running arid slowly due to the amount of water being utilised.

“If the land runs dry, then everything else also gets affected. Someway, the farmers must understand or be made to understand the consequences of cultivating paddy,” it said.

Observing that it had flagged the issue earlier also, the bench said in Punjab the growth of paddy was one of the reasons for the water table’s decline.

The bench observed that it had earlier flagged that paddy cultivation must be phased out in Punjab and be substituted with other crops and the authorities should explore the aspect of giving minimum support price (MSP) for alternative crops.

It said people people are burning residue despite the observations from the court and counselling and the fact that citizens and children were affected due to pollution.

“Then the stick must also follow the carrot. Why should there be any purchase under the MSP system from people who have lit the fire?” the bench suggested.

It said that per Punjab government, it lodged FIRs and imposed penalties but still farm fires were going on.

“Now the incentive to grow paddy is that they obtain MSP through this process,” it said, adding, “People who violate the norms, something should be done that it pinches them more”.

The counsel representing Punjab apprised the court about the steps taken by the authorities to stop crop residue burning in the state.

He said there were protests also where people were blocking authorities from accessing fields to douse the fire.

“You have to deal with law and order,” the bench said, adding, “No section can say we will do as we please. It cannot be. This is not acceptable”.

The bench noted in its order that a report filed by Punjab suggested that 8,481 meetings have been held with farmers and farm leaders to convince them not to burn paddy straws and 1,092 flying squads have been constituted.

“However, the upward trend in farm fires has not abated,” it noted.

The bench said recovery of the environmental compensation imposed by the authorities should take place and the court be apprised of it on the next date of hearing.

It also referred to a status report filed by the Centre on enforcement of measures to control stubble burning.

“The aforesaid data shows that out of the number of fields inspected, the number of cases and ECs (environment compensations) imposed is little more than 20 per cent only,” the bench said.

The court was also apprised of the issues faced by farmers in adopting alternative ways of disposing of stubble.

It noted the amicus has pointed out that for the purchase of machinery for disposing of crop residue, there was a subsidy of 50 per cent for farmers, and for cooperatives, it is even more.

The bench also noted it has been flagged before it that even if the machinery was given for free, there were aspects like the hiring of tractor, fuel and manpower.

“We put to the advocate general as to why the state cannot fund even this aspect and utilise the byproduct ,” the apex court said, adding, “We say so because there are farmers operating on different economic scales where they are able to gain profit even by the byproduct by use of these machines”.

It said Punjab may also take a cue from the endeavour made by Haryana in the manner in which financial incentives were given.

On the issue of paddy cultivation in Punjab, the bench said the committee, which is headed by the cabinet secretary and comprises all stakeholders, must look into the aspect of discouraging the cultivation of paddy especially on account of water required for it and the wells running dry there.

“The long-term impact could be disastrous. Thus, the persons concerned must put their heads together to see how to encourage a switch over to alternative crops,” it said.

On the issue of waste burning in the open, the bench asked what actions were taken by the Delhi and Uttar Pradesh governments to control it.

The court noted it was flagged before it that despite Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) curbs, open waste burning was continuing.

“This is a problem both in UP and Delhi. We expect both Delhi and UP to take action and file report before us…,” it said and posted the matter for further hearing on December 7.

“Whether it is one kilometre here and one kilometre there, the point is the people are suffering. That is the bottom line,” it said.

When one of the advocates raised the issue concerning the ban on construction activities, the bench said the committee would look into it.

The top court is seized of a plea filed in 1985 by environmentalist M C Mehta on air pollution and the issue of crop residue burning had arisen during the hearing of the matter.

While hearing the matter on November 7, the apex court directed Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh to ensure residual crop burning was stopped forthwith. The local Station House Officer (SHO) was made responsible for checking farm fires under the overall supervision of the DGP and chief secretary.

Press Trust of India

Press Trust of India is lead news agency of India

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