Adopt ‘carrot and stick’ policy to curb farm fires: SC to states | Latest News Delhi - Hindustan Times
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Adopt ‘carrot and stick’ policy to curb farm fires: SC to states

ByAbraham Thomas
Nov 11, 2023 03:43 AM IST

The court also pointed out that farmers burnt stubble of a particular paddy crop grown in Punjab over a large area which was also depleting water table level.

The Supreme Court on Friday reiterated to the Centre and the governments of states neighbouring the national capital that farm fires must be stopped and called for a “carrot and stick policy” to halt the annual practice that turns air for most part of north India into a toxic smog.

Attorney general R Venkatramani informed the court that the meeting chaired by the cabinet secretary found that 93% of farm fires took place in Punjab. (HT PHOTO)
Attorney general R Venkatramani informed the court that the meeting chaired by the cabinet secretary found that 93% of farm fires took place in Punjab. (HT PHOTO)

The court first issued the direction on Tuesday and during a hearing on Friday to monitor compliance, it directed the cabinet secretary to meet the chief secretaries of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh and consider steps to bring down high levels of pollution gripping Delhi. A bench headed by justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul observed that the authorities had made little headway.

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“We want farm fires stopped. You do it by whatever means. It is up to you whom you haul over the coals. We are not getting into the nitty-gritty,” the bench said and posted the matter for hearing on November 21, after the court reopens from its Diwali break.

The bench, also comprising justices Sudhanshu Dhulia and Ahsanuddin Amanullah said: “We are not saying follow this or that policy but only saying that a solution must be found. Work must go on. The decline in farm fires must go on during these holidays.”

Referring to its Tuesday order where it listed out certain short-term and long-term measures, the court said, “A carrot and stick policy is necessary for preventing farm fires. There has to be punitive action as registering an FIR is not enough. Anybody who does farm fire must be visited with consequences. You may attach his property for a year.”

Attorney general R Venkatramani informed the court that the meeting chaired by the cabinet secretary found that 93% of farm fires took place in Punjab. He said that the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) informed the meeting that for 2023, the target to bring down farm fires by 50% in 18 Punjab districts and eliminate the same from Haryana, which had not been achieved and instead a sharp increase in stubble burning was witnessed in the state in the last 10 days (October 29 to November 8) that spiked air quality index (AQI) levels in the Capital.

“Every time, you pick up speed after we intervene,” said the bench, wondering why if the CAQM knew that farm fires were rising and “this season will be troublesome” if no steps were taken.

The Punjab chief minister’s own constituency, Sangrur, recorded the highest number of farm fires in the state. Farmers in Punjab, and also in Haryana, Rajasthan, and parts of Uttar Pradesh (although to a much lesser extent in the three states), burn the stubble of their paddy crop after harvesting it to get their fields ready quickly for the next crop. As temperatures dip, Delhi’s air becomes heavier, accumulating local pollutants, which is then made worse by emissions from stubble fires -- these together push the air quality into hazardous levels.

Senior advocate Aparajita Singh appearing as amcus curaie along with senior advocate ADN Rao pointed out that farmers were a constituency against whom no government takes action. The bench agreed but sought to send a message to the farmer community too. “Farmers are also part of society. Let them be responsible. We are also sensitive to their needs but the objective can’t be to let people die.”

The court also pointed out that farmers burnt stubble of a particular paddy crop grown in Punjab over a large area which was also depleting the water table level. “Why is this paddy which is a water guzzler still used? You don’t want to create a desert there,” the bench said, seeking action on its earlier order giving incentives in the form of minimum support price and farm machines to shift to alternate crops such as maize or millets.

“How can you expect the farmer to switch from paddy to sowing any other crop unless there is an incentive? If both the Centre and states want it will happen... It’s your (government’s) business how to control farm fires. If it doesn’t occur, we will keep your chief secretary or secretary here till it occurs,” the bench said.

The court pointed out that air pollution was an emergency that required immediate measures to be mitigated. “It can’t wait till tomorrow. If you say, we will examine the financial implications, this season will go.”

AG Venkatramani told the court that some short-term measures that need to be immediately implemented were decided during the meeting to bring down farm fires. A note submitted by the Centre showed that “ 3,333 crore was released by the ministry of agriculture under crop residue management (CRM) of which, 1,531 crore was released to Punjab and 1,006 crore to Haryana.”

The note added that nearly 120,000 seeder machines were available under the CRM Scheme in Punjab and 76,000 in Haryana.

“Optimum utilisation of these machines could have prevented stubble burning to such a large extent,” the note said.

Senior advocate ADN Rao, also assisting the court as amicus curiae said that even after the top court’s order, Punjab recorded more than 2,000 farm fire incidents.

The court asked the Punjab government represented by advocate general Gurminder Singh why the measures to control the fires were not implemented. “The chart shows your figures are 10 times more. Till a year earlier, you (Aam Aadmi Party) were focusing on Punjab and now you are not focusing on Punjab,” the bench said.

The state responded by saying that controlling farm fires was a “herculean task” but they have been significantly brought down with total incidents recorded on Thursday being around 600.

The court directed that the cabinet secretary continue to monitor the situation. “The meeting held by Cabinet Secretary and representatives of states has prescribed certain immediate steps to be taken. Those steps are to be proceeded with by all stakeholders. Every endeavour is to be made to bring farm fires under control,” the order said.

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