Observing that crop residue burning, which is a major cause of pollution in the NCR, was likely to start in the post-Diwali harvest season, the Delhi High Court on Wednesday asked the Central government to consider the reasons for the practice. “You either penalise the farmer or you subsidise him so it is no longer economical to burn crop residue,” commented the bench of Justice Badar Durrez Ahmed and Justice Ashutosh Kumar.
The directions were issued after the counsel for the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests as well as Delhi government failed to answer the court’s queries on the reasons for the practice of crop burning.
“How will you implement basic measures if you don’t ask why the farmers burn the crop stubble? You not only have to ban the activity but also have to remove the root cause,” said the bench. The issue of air pollution in the capital was taken up as a suo motu PIL by the high court last year. Burning of crop residue by farmers in Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana and UP has been identified as a major source of pollution in the National Capital Region. The burning of crop residue was banned by several state governments last year, but it has continued.
In its affidavit filed before the court, the MoEF stated that the ban on crop burning had resulted in 38 per cent reduction in stubble burning in Punjab and 20 per cent reduction in the practice in Haryana (according to figures available with the MOEF in April this year).
The bench said ‘reduction’ was not acceptable. “This is only reduction. If there is a ban, why has the practice not stopped? Can you tell us how you will ensure a complete ban?” asked the court. The bench asked the MoEF to “come back with answers”.
The bench also asked the Centre as well as Delhi government to file affidavits indicating “specific steps” to be taken to ensure there is “no biomass or stubble burning” in the coming harvest season. “Public memory lasts for three weeks. You held awareness campaigns in April, what if people have forgotten?” asked the court. The court will resume hearing next week.