New Delhi: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Monday said there was a need to find out a long-lasting solution to the problems of stubble burning and directed the chief secretaries of four states to appear before it to explain ways to prevent it. A bench, headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, directed the Union Agriculture Secretary and chief secretaries of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi to remain present on November 15 after applying due diligence and strategic planning for action to prevent crop burning.
The green panel said it is open to the central government also to organise a meeting on the subject on the same day or any other convenient day. The tribunal said the government came out with a scheme called the “National Policy for Management of Crop Residue – 2014” which provided assistance to farmers by way of machinery and equipment to avoid stubble burning.
However, despite the steps taken, the problem still subsists.
We make it clear that we do not intend to criticise the working of any of the states or the central government. We have perused the affidavits and reports from Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, NCT of Delhi and also reports of the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India. The fact remains that the problem has not been fully tackled and the adverse impacts on the air quality and consequent impacts on the citizens’ health and lives are undisputed. The problem is required to be resolved by taking all such measures as are possible in the interest of public health and environment protection, the bench said.
It said that it was not considering the issue of adverse coercive measures like prosecution etc. for offences under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 or other applicable laws but it does not see any difficulty why such economic incentives should not be duly planned or executed.
We make it clear that the existing Minimum Support Price (MSP) Scheme must be so interpreted so as to enable the concerned states to wholly or partly deny the benefit of MSP to those who continue to burn the crop residue. If any such disbursements have already been made with respect to this year’s paddy crop, the same can be adjusted in the future. Such a scheme may be worked out and notified forthwith preferably by November 14 this year. The short time is being given on account of urgency of situation with regard to deteriorating air quality prevailing in NCT of Delhi and adjoining areas, the bench said.
The green panel was hearing the matter after taking note of a news report published in English daily titled, “All fiddle as crop stubble burns, farmers say solutions out of reach.”
The report had claimed that crop burning shoots up the carbon dioxide levels in the air by 70 per cent. It had said that every year in October, the air quality in Delhi, Punjab and Haryana plummets as farmers set the leftover stubble and loose straw on fire after paddy is harvested using combines.
It had also claimed that over the last two years, the central and state governments have devised a number of measures to prevent crop burning — from slapping fines on farmers to subsidising equipment that allow seeds of the next wheat crop to be planted with the stubble still on the fields.
The tribunal had earlier directed the Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture to submit a status report within six weeks on providing infrastructural assistance to farmers to stop them from burning crop residue to prevent air pollution.
It had asked the official to take feedback from the authorities concerned on steps taken to enforce the directions of the tribunal, including providing machinery to poor and marginal farmers.
The Punjab government had earlier faced the wrath of the tribunal for not taking effective steps to provide financial assistance and infrastructure facility to farmers to encourage them not to burn agricultural residue in their fields.
The green panel had said that three years had elapsed since its verdict in the Vikrant Tongad case, in which it had passed a slew of directions to stop crop burning, but the state government had shown a lethargic approach.
It had said the Punjab government had also failed to tie up with any company, private or public, which could utilise the crop residue.
The tribunal had directed Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh governments to convene a meeting to work out a clear mechanism on transportation and use of stubble as fuel in power plants.
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