The Supreme Court on Thursday declined to grant an urgent hearing on a plea seeking a ban on stubble burning as a measure to curb air pollution in Delhi-NCR. A counsel mentioned the matter before a bench headed by just-elevated Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud.
The Chief Justice remarked, “will the ban (against stubble burning) help?”
He added that in some matters, courts can look into and some it cannot since they are not ‘judicially amenable’. The counsel suggested that banning stubble burning can be effective in curbing air pollution, which impacts Delhi-NCR.
The bench then queried “should we enforce it against every farmer in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh?” It added that some genuine solution should be found but ‘this is not the way’.
The top court declined to list the matter on priority.
Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to examine a plea seeking urgent steps to curb air pollution in Delhi. The plea claimed due to worsening air pollution it has become difficult to survive in the National Capital Territory.
Advocate Shashank Shekhar Jha had mentioned the matter before a bench headed by then Chief Justice U.U. Lalit, and sought an urgent hearing in the matter. Jha said the air pollution in the capital is in the severe category due to increase in stubble burning and sought a direction to state governments to take necessary measures in order to reduce the pollution.
In 2017, then Justice DY Chandrachud had congratulated fellow SC Justice AK Sikri on his order banning Diwali crackers, saying “it ensured that we could breathe fresh air even after Diwali”
Urgent hearings only when it comes to banning crackers?
Delhi faced the worst air pollution in the first week of November, although Diwali was on October 24 year this year. Actually, there has been no consistent correlation between Diwali night and peak air pollution for many years now (see here, here, here). Yet, the few hours of bursting Deepawali crackers has been painted as the biggest contributor to Delhi’s annual winter-time air pollution woes by left-liberals, and their misguided activism has found full support of our judiciary.
A recent IIT-Delhi study on Delhi’s air pollution during October-November found that biomass and stubble burning have a greater impact on the quality of air than crackers burst on Diwali night. Cold atmospheric conditions and wind patterns during this time mean that the pollutants do not easily disperse.
Prior studies by other scientific bodies such as TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute), IIT Kanpur, SAFAR (System for Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research) have all shown that crackers don’t even fall in the top 15 causes of Delhi’s air pollution – vehicular emission, road dust, industrial emissions, power plants, construction work, biomass burning, stubble (crop residue) burning, refuse (waste) burning are the key causes of pollution through the year.
What is stubble burning and why do farmers do it?
October to November period coincides with the crop harvesting season in northern Bharat. And farmers who grow rice in Punjab, parts of Haryana and West UP resort to burning the paddy residue to prepare fields for the wheat sowing season.
But why has air pollution caused by stubble burning become an issue only in recent years? Another study titled ‘‘Long term influence of groundwater preservation policy on stubble burning and air pollution over North-West India” by the Dehradun-based Indian Institute of Remote Sensing (IIRS) provides the answer to that.
The study found that a new Act introduced in 2009 in Punjab and Haryana to preserve groundwater led to “shrinking of the crop harvesting window, which has resulted in stubble burning fires that were earlier spread out to now coincide with change in wind patterns, which causes winds to slow down and reduce aerosol dispersion, drastically increasing pollution over North India”. Scientists found a 21% jump in paddy stubble burning fires in Oct-November post 2010 due to this act.
Another interesting aspect of this whole issue is that farmers from Punjab and Haryana have been incentivized to grow cereals like rice and wheat since the Green Revolution era of the 1970s, and due to the guaranteed MSP that they get from govt. for these grains, they are now hooked to them rather than grow the diverse indigenous crops which are not as water-guzzling.
Farm reforms which could have liberalized the agriculture sector and promoted crop diversification were violently resisted by vested farmers lobbies and ultimately defeated, while SC sat on an expert committee report that it itself had set up.
So a problem which was caused by an interlinking-matrix of multiple factors, has been dumped on the easiest punching bag of the secular Indian state – Hindu religion and its festivals.
In the past, Supreme Court has held several urgent hearings against Diwali crackers, often times announcing last-minute restrictions on sale of crackers leading to massive loses to traders and others involved in the indigenous cracker business. Around 1.5 lakh people employed in the Sivakasi cracker industry have been rendered jobless by the knee-jerk legal activism driven by elitist distaste for Hindu community celebrations, and encouraged by our judiciary.
And while CJI Chandrachud has refused to prioritize a hearing on the stubble burning issue, this is how the same SC dismissed a plea challenging the blanket firecracker ban imposed in Delhi till 1 January 2023 – ““Let people breathe clean air… spend your money on sweets”.
The double standards of the Indian state on this whole issue of stubble burning versus Diwali firecrackers has been captured well in this thread by Anand Ranganathan.
(This story has been reproduced here with permission from Hindu Post.)