Supreme Court Rebukes Punjab Government Over Stubble Burning Amid Delhi's Air Pollution Crisis

Supreme Court Rebukes Punjab Government Over Stubble Burning Amid Delhi's Air Pollution Crisis
Image Source : PTI

Amidst a dire air pollution crisis in the national capital, the Supreme Court on Tuesday, November 7, issued stern directives to the Aam Aadmi Party-led Punjab government, urging them to cease stubble burning immediately. The top court's unequivocal message emphasized the need for urgent action, stating that it is the Punjab government's responsibility to address this critical issue.

The Supreme Court expressed its concern over the worsening air quality and the resultant health hazards, underscoring the significance of prompt measures. The court also made it clear that the issue of stubble burning should not be mired in political disputes. It demanded that immediate steps be taken to combat this problem and issued directives to the governments of Punjab, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan to put an end to stubble burning without delay.

Air Pollution and the Stubble Burning Factor:

The Supreme Court's remarks came in the wake of several recent incidents of stubble burning, which is a significant contributing factor to the alarming air pollution levels in the national capital. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had previously blamed the Haryana government for Delhi's pollution, citing the proximity of Haryana to Delhi compared to Punjab.

While AAP spokesperson Priyanka Kakkar argued that Delhi had witnessed its best air quality in eight years, the data indicated a 31% reduction in pollution in the city, with a 50-67% decrease in stubble burning in Punjab. However, this has not been sufficient to counteract the widespread problem.

Delhi's Air Quality Crisis:

For nearly a week, Delhi has been grappling with severe air pollution, with the air quality hovering in the 'Severe' category. A thick layer of smog has enveloped the city, causing significant health concerns. To address this crisis, the Delhi government announced the reintroduction of the Odd-Even vehicle system for seven days, starting on November 13.

However, the Supreme Court expressed skepticism about the efficacy of such measures, characterizing schemes like Odd-Even as mere appearances without substantial impact on the pollution issue.

Sharp Observations and Concerns:

Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, presiding over the air pollution matter, made sharp observations about the situation. While traveling through Punjab, he witnessed extensive fires resulting from stubble burning on both sides of the road. The Supreme Court highlighted the grave consequences of paddy crop cultivation, which has led to a drastic decline in the water table and threatens the sustainability of wells in Punjab.

The court also drew attention to the inconsistency in government policies, where promoting millets on one hand while allowing paddy cultivation to deplete groundwater on the other, creating a severe crisis.

Supreme Court's Directives:

The Supreme Court placed the responsibility for implementing its directives on stubble burning with the local Station House Officer (SHO), supervised by the Director Generals of Police (DGPs) and the Chief Secretary. Additionally, the court noted that a previously installed smog tower was not functional and directed the government to ensure its repair. The Chief Secretaries of the respective states were also urged to convene meetings, either in person or via digital platforms, to address the issue of pollution.

The Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing on the air pollution matter for Friday, November 10.

Congress Response:

Responding to the Supreme Court's direction to the Punjab government, Congress leader Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa called for attention to the pollution problems of Delhi and Haryana, asserting that Punjab's farmers are unjustly defamed. He emphasized the need for collective efforts to tackle this complex issue, particularly involving the central government.

Stubble Burning in Punjab:

Recent reports reveal that on November 6 alone, Punjab saw 2,060 cases of stubble burning. The current season has witnessed an alarming total of over 19,463 cases of stubble burning in Punjab. In the past nine days, more than 15,000 such cases were reported.

Stubble burning was most prominent in Sangrur, Bathinda, Mansa, Firozpur, Barnala, and Moga on Monday, with these districts reporting the highest numbers of cases.

Delhi's Mitigation Efforts:

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, in response to the ongoing pollution crisis, announced the reimplementation of the Odd-Even vehicle scheme for a week, starting on November 13. The Delhi Environment Minister outlined measures taken to mitigate pollution, including bans on specific types of vehicles, extensive anti-dust campaigns, and stringent control over firecrackers and construction activities.

School Closures and Continuing Efforts:

In the midst of the crisis, classes for students in standards 6, 7, 8, 9, and 11 in Delhi have been suspended until November 10, allowing only classes for standards 10 and 12 to proceed.

The Delhi government is actively pursuing measures to combat pollution, with a focus on enforcing bans, conducting inspections, and engaging the community in addressing the issue.