The government must persuade farmers against stubble burning, the Supreme Court said today as it stressed that it does not want to punish them while Delhi and neighbouring cities see an escalating air quality crisis.
"We do not want to penalise the farmers. We have already asked the centre to pursue and request those farmers to not burn stubble at least for a week," Chief Justice NV Ramana said today.
As a blame game erupted over the data on farm fires, the Chief Justice pulled up the officials concerned: "Debates on TV are causing more pollution than any other sources. Everyone has their own agenda there. We are trying to work out a solution here."
Justice Surya Kant, who had earlier insisted that farmers need incentives to find alternatives, today yet again underlined. "Irrespective of figures in affidavits, we have to consider the plight of the farmers...what compels him to burn the stubble? Nobody is concerned about that. People sleeping in five-star hotels in Delhi blame farmers. Look at such small landholdings. Can they afford the machines you all talk about?"
The Supreme Court's sharp comments were in response to the back and forth between the Delhi government and the centre over the stubble burning data. On Monday, the central government had told the court that farm fires have only 10 per cent share in the national capital's severe pollution.
As the hearing began today, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the centre, told the court he faced "nasty comments". "We heard some nasty utterances on TV about me that I misled the court by saying stubble burning is only contributing 4-7 per cent. We had said in our affidavit that some factors like stubble burning contribute more after October to pollution. It's not throughout the year," he said.
To this, Chief Justice Ramana replied, "These figures are not important for us. Unless the parties in the case are trying to divert the issue. We are concerned with lowering pollution. When you hold a public office, you are bound to get such criticism. When conscience is clear there is no issue. Forget it."
When the Delhi government's lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi was about to quote the data from the central agency SAFAR to counter the centre, the Chief Justice said: "If you see today's newspapers, each paper has its own statistics."
"Forget the politics... it is our duty to tell you that stubble burning is a cause. It varies from 0 to 58 per cent, based on the month we are talking about. The Solicitor General may have taken a four-month or six-month average," Mr Singhvi stressed.
But Chief Justice Ramana delivered a sharp reprimand, "If you keep raising these other things like that then the main issue will not get resolved."
On behalf of the petitioner, lawyer Vikas Singh told the court: "Air pollution is an endemic problem. The Supreme Court asks the government, and the governments say 'we will do this and that'... but nothing happens. It's wrongly reported that stubble contributes only 10 per cent to air pollution. It could be up to 50 per cent during the current season. We are not into farmer bashing. But stubble burning is a serious problem." The exchange of comments came as the hearing on the Delhi air quality crisis, which began last week, continued for the third day.
Schools have been closed in the national capital and neighbouring cities and work-from-home as been advised for offices, read a late-night order by the Commission for Air Quality Management.
Expressing disappointment at the end of the hearing, the Chief Justice said the matter will be taken up again on Tuesday. "The government of India, over a period of time, I have observed that the bureaucracy has developed inertia. They want everything to be done by the court - water sprinkling, stopping fires... It's unfortunate on the part of the Executive."
"Two hours of our time was wasted. We had already asked you to take a call after joint meetings," he said in a sharp rebuke.