SC directs Punjab to stop stubble burning as NCR chokes

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday asked Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan to stop paddy stubble burning immediately, saying that it was a “significant” contributor to air pollution, particularly in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR).

Observing that there could not be a “political battle all the time” – referring to state governments passing the buck to the other on the issue – the apex court said crop-burning by farmers should be stopped, whether by forceful actions or by incentives.

“We don’t know how you do it, it’s your job. But it must be stopped. Something has to be done immediately,” a bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia told the Advocate General of Punjab Gurminder Singh.

The SC also said that the local station house officer – under the overall supervision of the chief secretary and the director general of police – should prevent the crop burning.

The bench was hearing a petition that flagged the toxic air in Delhi, which has oscillated between “severe” and “severe plus” pollution categories over the past few days.

Justice Kaul told Singh: “We do not care how you do it. It must be stopped. Whether sometimes by forceful actions and sometimes by incentives… Your administration must do so. Your local SHO must be held responsible. From today onwards, they must start working on it.”

The court then ordered the Delhi government to ensure that municipal waste was not burnt in the open, as is now prevalent.

The justices also asked the Cabinet Secretary to hold a meeting Wednesday with all stakeholders, and explore measures available including switching the paddy crop – which is not native to Punjab – in favour of traditional crops.

Meanwhile, Delhi’s pollution levels marginally dipped Tuesday morning and were recorded in the “very poor” category after five consecutive days of “severe” air quality.

The national capital’s Air Quality Index (AQI) stood at 394, from 421 at 4 pm Monday. However, the concentration of PM2.5 – or the fine particulate matter capable of penetrating deep into the respiratory system and triggering health problems – still exceeded the government’s safe limit of 60 micrograms per cubic metre by seven to eight times.

The Delhi government announced several measures Monday to rein in pollution, including bringing back the odd-even scheme for a week from 13 to 20 November, shutting schools, and suspending all construction work.

Despite the several measures taken by governments in the past few years, Delhi continues to choke every winter due to vehicular emissions, paddy straw burning, firecrackers, and other local contaminating factors.

Meanwhile, the BJP tried to capitalise on the SC’s observations Tuesday, accusing the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) governments in Delhi and Punjab of making the capital a “gas chamber”.

Party leader Shehzaad Poonawala said Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had always blamed stubble-burning in Punjab for the pollution in the capital region.

“Kejriwal promised to end the problem in one year if he was voted to power in Punjab. But after AAP came to power, crop-burning has increased by 750 per cent. What is he doing about polluting factors in Delhi? They have only blamed everybody else,” Poonawala added.

Also read: ‘Akin to 25-30 cigarettes a day’ — top surgeon on why air pollution is ‘grave public emergency’


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