‘Stubble burning can spike Covid-19 deaths’: Petition in SC
Pollution caused by stubble burning in Delhi’s neighbouring states can exponentially increase the mortality rate due to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), claimed a petition filed in the Supreme Court seeking total ban on stubble burning.
The plea has been moved by two young environmental activists – a Class 12 student, who under his own initiative of “Plant A Million Trees”, has planted 1.5 lakh trees in Delhi and National Capital Region (NCR), and a third-year law student who is an active campaigner against the use of single-use plastic.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde has listed the petition for hearing on October 6 along with the batch of MC Mehta matters pertaining to Delhi pollution. The petition was mentioned by senior advocate Harish Salve who is assisting the Court as amicus curiae (friend of Court).
“The consequence of allowing any stubble burning to take place in the times of this pandemic will be catastrophic,” the petition by the two young environmentalists said. Citing international medical studies, the plea stated that medical studies have found that people with weak respiratory system or living in polluted areas are at serious risk of contracting Covid-19 leading to death in some cases.
“Any increase in air pollution levels in Delhi-NCR this year while the Covid-19 pandemic is spiralling out of control, will exponentially increase the mortality rate due to Covid-19 by compromising the respiratory system of the citizens, particularly in the case of senior citizens and children,” the petition stated. Further, it stated that enhanced pollution level can offer “direct pathway for airborne transmission” of Covid-19 virus.
Salve told the Court that the petition raised an important issue and requires to be heard. Delhi witnesses an exponential rise in air pollution levels around this time of the year due to stubble burning by farmers in Punjab, Haryana Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Last year, the air quality index (AQI) crossed the 1,000 mark as stubble burning releases suspended particulate matter in the air and emits harmful gases such as carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and methane.
Farmers have to prepare the fields for sowing of the rabi crop after harvesting the Kharif crop. As the period between the two events is short, the remains of the Kharif crop cannot be manually plucked out and to remove it, they are set on fire. As a way out, the petition suggested that stubble removing machines should be either provided at affordable rents by state governments to small and marginal farmers. It recommended daily wage workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MNREGA) scheme. The petition has even recommended putting strict curbs on construction activities and polluting industries in Delhi-NCR if AQI crosses 150.
In the MC Mehta case, the Supreme Court has been monitoring the stubble burning issue by asking respective state governments to inform progress made on setting up biomass plants and providing stubble removal machines to small farmers. Alternatively, the Court has directed setting up of a smog tower in Delhi on an experimental basis.