SC seeks concrete measures from Centre on stubble burning
- The Court was hearing a PIL which alleged that the spike in pollution caused due to stubble burning could increase health risks caused by Covid-19.
The Supreme Court on Monday asked the recently-constituted Commission for Air Quality Management in Delhi and Adjoining areas to submit an action plan to curb stubble burning this year.
Finding the problem to repeat itself every year with no solution still in sight, a three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde, Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, “You come back with concrete measures being taken about stubble burning.”
The Court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by two young environmental activists led by Aditya Dubey. The PIL alleged that the spike in pollution caused due to stubble burning could increase health risks caused by Covid-19 leading to more deaths.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh appearing for the petitioners said, “Stubble burning problem is over for last year (2020) but some concrete steps must be taken by the Commission.”
Singh told the Court that a detailed affidavit filed last month by the Centre detailed the work done by the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) since its formation by way of an Ordinance on October 28, 2020. “The affidavit makes no mention about the steps taken to curb stubble burning,” he added.
On December 17, when the case was last heard, the CJI-headed bench had remarked, “We are not very satisfied” about the work done by the Commission. In October 2020, the Court had even formed a one-man committee headed by former Supreme Court judge, Justice Madan Lokur to report on farm fires after air pollution in Delhi deteriorated. To put in place a permanent mechanism against air pollution, the Centre issued an Ordinance forming the said Commission.
The Commission, drawing members from Central ministries and representatives from neighbouring states, was expected to provide a consolidated and conjoint approach which included monitoring, tackling and research in air pollution. The body was even tasked with the responsibility of coordinating measures taken by Delhi’s neighbouring states to prevent factors causing air pollution. Stubble burning was one of the major causes of air pollution under consideration of the Commission’s radar.
The affidavit filed jointly by the Centre and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) disclosed about 50 teams being formed to monitor pollution on the ground. As per data furnished by the Commission, active farm fires in Punjab have been 44 per cent higher in 2020 (September 21-November 25) with 76,590 stubble fires as compared to same period in 2019 with 52,991 fires. Correspondingly, farm fires in Haryana saw a decline of 25 per cent over last year. In 2020, the state reported 5,000 stubble burning incidents compared to 6,652 in 2019.
The Commission relied on the Ambient Air Quality Standards to show that in 2019, Delhi had 121 days and 63 days of ambient air quality for PM 2.5 and PM 10 levels as compared to 2018 when the corresponding figures were 98 days and 48 days.
The affidavit further disclosed that on November 27 last year, the Commission held deliberations with Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) and state governments of Punjab and Haryana on various measures to mitigate the issue of paddy crop burning. Scientists working in the field of agriculture proposed the use of PUSA-decomposer for microbial disintegration of agricultural stubble that could be an alternative to stubble burning. The Commission met various NGOs and civil society groups on this aspect, the deliberations of which are expected to come up in the subsequent affidavit to be filed by the Centre.
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