LASHING OUT at the Chief Secretaries of Punjab, Haryana and UP for not doing enough to prevent stubble burning, which has contributed to Delhi’s pollution crisis, the Supreme Court Wednesday asked the three states to pay Rs 100 per quintal of crop — within seven days — as incentive to paddy farmers who have not burnt stubble on their fields.
A bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta also asked the states to provide machines that help deal with crop residue to “small and marginal” farmers free of cost, for now.
When Punjab Chief Secretary Karan Avtar Singh submitted that state was under “great fiscal stress” and unable to incentivise farmers, Justice Mishra said: “Then you have to vacate. If you can’t provide funds, you have no right to rule.”
At another juncture, Justice Mishra told Singh that “if you cannot fulfil expectations of people, you go”, and later warned that the bench would suspend him on the spot. “You want to rule from an ivory tower and leave people to die. You are also human and you will also die some day if things goes on like this,” he told the official.
Taking stern note of the “inability” of the Delhi government to tackle pollution, the bench warned the state’s Chief Secretary Vijay Kumar Dev that “we will not spare your top boss if you don’t” take remedial action.
The apex court had directed the Chief Secretaries to appear before it during the previous hearing on November 4, when it described the situation in Delhi as “worse than the Emergency”.
On Wednesday, the court also asked the Centre and states, and the ministries of agriculture and environment, to draw up within three months a comprehensive action plan that will take care of the interests of farmers. “The intention is not to punish farmers…Our aim is to ensure that stubble burning does not recur,” the bench said.
Responding to a submission from the Chief Secretaries of Punjab, Haryana (K A Arora) and UP (Rajendra Kumar Tiwari), that they had held meetings to sensitise farmers on the harmful effects of stubble burning, Justice Mishra said: “You are trying to sensitise people, but first you have to sensitise yourself. If you Chief Secretaries were sensitised enough, this would not have happened.”
Questioning the Delhi Chief Secretary, the bench said that the state government had not been able to deal with the issue of construction waste, road dust, and open garbage dumping and burning.
The bench noted that there were 13 hotspots in Delhi with alarming air quality index and hoped that action will be taken in seven days as promised by the Chief Secretary. “If you don’t solve…you are out. You can’t play with lives of people,” Justice Mishra warned.
The court also rejected Attorney General K K Venugopal’s suggestion to divide the areas where crop stubble was being burnt into seven zones and allow burning in each by turn.
“What’s the use of all this development if we can’t control stubble burning…We are outrightly rejecting your suggestion. We will not allow it. We wants the states to act,” Justice Mishra said.
The AG said he was only advancing a “practical” and “workable” solution as the livelihoods of lakhs of small farmers were involved as other options were too expensive for them.
Justice Gupta then noted that instances of stubble burning had reduced considerably in Haryana, which showed that proper implementation could produce results.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta pointed out that Haryana had a scheme to purchase crop residue from farmers to produce power and compressed bio-gas. Justice Mishra said the data also showed that while Haryana had used the funds provided for dealing with the situation, Punjab had not used it as much.
Questioning the Punjab Chief Secretary, Justice Mishra said: “You have to be hauled up under the law of torts (civil misdeeds that require compensation). It’s sheer inaction of the state machinery…We can’t be protecting these officers now. Everybody knew this was going to happen this year too. What steps did you take to prevent?”
The court asked the official if the state had devised a policy to incentivise farmers against burning stubble. Singh responded that it would require about Rs 1,800 crore which the state could not afford at present, as it is facing difficulties even in paying salaries.
“You are running the government. You have money for all other purposes. But you don’t have money to pay poor farmers. You don’t have money for right to life of people,” Justice Mishra said.
The bench also expressed dissatisfaction with Haryana not doing enough to quell farm fires in four districts. “You are worse…Punjab says they began preparations some months back. You only did meetings yesterday,” Justice Mishra said even as Chief Secretary Arora submitted that meetings of gram sabhas had been held over the last two-three days.
Next in the court’s line of fire was UP Chief Secretary Tiwari who said instances of stubble burning in western parts of the state had fallen 48 per cent over the last year. “But 52 per cent remains. Is it not your failure? You knew it’s coming,” said Justice Mishra.
Underlying that states had a responsibility to deal with the situation, Justice Mishra said that if they continued to pass the buck to the Centre, “then don’t have state governments, let the Centre rule the country”.