"Time To Punish Officers": Top Court Raps States Over Stubble-Burning

Pointing out that the government's inaction is placing the onus on farmers, the court said in no country the government can permit stubble burning.

The court rejected suggestions that it is not possible to control two lakh farmers who burn stubble.

Highlights

  • "People are dying. 1800 is the level of pollution," the court said
  • Government's inaction is placing the onus on farmers, it said
  • Top court was hearing a plea by Environment Pollution Control Authority
New Delhi:

Top officials of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi were roasted today by the Supreme Court for their failure to control the wave of pollution that has gripped most of north India. Accusing the officials of failing to plan ahead or take action and blaming it all on farmers, the court said, "The time has come to punish officers".

As the government's representative, the Chief Secretaries bore the wrath of the court. Much of the court's wrath fell on the Chief Secretary of Punjab, who was told that it was his failure. "Is this way? We will suspend from here. Why are you the Chief Secretary of Punjab? It is your failure," the court said in a hearing that went well beyond the closing hours.

"People are dying. 1800 is the level of pollution. Flights are diverted. You are proud of your achievement," said the two-judge bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta, while hearing the plea of pollution control body Environment Pollution Control Authority or EPCA against stubble burning.

Smoke from the stubble burnt on the farmland of Punjab and Haryana is the chief component of the smog that chokes Delhi and its neighbouring areas. This year, it has spread over much of north India.

Despite the court's Monday's order to Punjab and Haryana governments to extinguish stubble fires, a record 7000 fires were detected on Wednesday by SAFAR, the Ministry of Earth Sciences' air quality monitor. Much of this came from Punjab.

The top court has ordered the states of UP, Punjab, and Haryana to provide financial assistance to the tune of Rs 100 per quintal to small and marginal farmers growing non-Basmati rice to deal with the stubble, saying it was they needed not punishment, but basic facilities. The state governments have been ordered to provide machines for hire and also operational expenses to small and marginal farmers so they can hire these machines. This will help them deal with the crop stubble, the court said.

Pointing out that the government's inaction is placing the onus on farmers, who are being challaned in Haryana for stubble burning, the court said "You want poor farmers to be punished. Punishment of farmers is not a solution".

"You are responsible and entire Punjab, Haryana, UP and Delhi are responsible for this. Nobody bothered about the poor citizens of the country.... We are going to haul up entire machinery," Justice Mishra said.

Earlier, the court had reprimanded the Attorney General as well. At the hearing attended by the Chief Secretaries of the Centre, Delhi, Punjab and Haryana, Attorney General KK Venugopal had said 44 per cent of the polluting haze that's sweeping over the north India comes from stubble burning.

The court rejected his suggestions that it is not possible to control 200,000 farmers who burn stubble. "If stubble burning is the only way then this is the end... Stubble burning has to be controlled and inability to do that will take the country back by 100 years," the court said.

"Farmers say it will affect livelihood and they have no other way," he said. "If Haryana can control it (stubble burning) , why not Punjab? Nobody tried organic means," the court shot back.

When the Punjab Chief Secretary said they do not have the funds for the purchase of machinery, the court said, "You don't have funds, you don't have a plan. Then you don't have right to be the Chief Secretary".

The Chief Secretaries of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi were also hauled up. The court said the Delhi government has been unable to control the twin problems of construction and garbage burning. "Why are you in the chair? It is the capital. Where your money is spent?  People are not responsible.  You are responsible. It's your failure," the court told the Chief Secretary of Delhi.

The Delhi government has been told to submit an action plan to deal with issues of garbage dumping, unpaved roads, garbage burning and traffic congestion.

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