By Sumit Saxena
New Delhi, Nov 6 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Wednesday made scathing observation on the officials’ lackadaisical approach towards pollution, posed critical queries to the Chief Secretaries of UP, Haryana and Punjab, and grilled them on “immediate steps to stop stubble burning.”
“The right to life is involved. We need a roadmap to stop stubble burning. Do governments want humans to die due to stubble burning”, the apex court Bench, comprising Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Deepak Mishra, told the chief secretaries present in the court to explain the measures taken by their states to stop farmers from burning stubble.
The Delhi Chief Secretary was also present to explain steps taken to contain local air pollution.
At a close to three-hour hearing, the court rejected Attorney General K.K. Venugopal’s suggestion of dividing stubble burning region into seven zones, and allow farmers in each zone to burn stubble in turn. “We outrightly reject the suggestion, burning is not a solution,” Justice Mishra said.
Venugopal insisted it was difficult to stop over 2 lakh farmers from burning stubble.
When Justice Mishra asked why the government couldn’t purchase stubble at the panchayat level, the A-G said he had not discussed it with officers before making the suggestion, which he felt was practical.
The hearing began with grilling of the Punjab Chief Secretary, who said due to lack of funds and state’s indebtedness farmers couldn’t be incentivised to stop burning stubble.
“We can’t leave the country in this situation, why only burning is the solution,” said the court insisting it expects war-level response from the state government on the stubble burning issue.
The court, after learning that Punjab contributes maximum to stubble burning and despite warning fires have not reduced, warned the government it would not spare single officer of the state government for not acting on pollution. “People can’t be left to die…you (high-level officers) sit in your ivory towers and let people to die,” the court observed.
Questioning the Chief Secretaries of Haryana and UP, the court said their failure to stop stubble burning had led to public health emergency in Delhi-NCR. “Don’t tell us about having meetings with officials to resolve the issue. We want action and a roadmap to immediately stop stubble burning,” the court said.
Concluding the hearing, the Supreme Court asked the UP, Haryana and Punjab governments to provide Rs 100 per quintal assistance within seven days to prevent small and marginal farmers from burning stubble.
The court also said agriculture was the backbone of the country and it’s the duty of the government to protect small and marginal farmers. Lack of funds couldn’t be a ground for the government to neglect them.
“Provide stubble managing machinery free to small and marginal farmers for the time being, as it will address stubble burning”, said Justice Mishra insisting on incentivising farmers to help stop burning stubble.
Observing that small and marginal farmers are often left behind and big farmers reap benefits, the court said it must change. The court asked the state governments to assist small and marginal farmers to access machines that could help in managing stubble, especially from the local custom hiring centres.
The court also directed the Centre to frame a comprehensive scheme to take care of environment issues and protect the interest of small and marginal farmers within three months. It should be implemented across the country, the court added.
(Sumit Saxena can be contacted at [email protected])