In response to the deteriorating air quality in the Delhi-National Capital Region, the Supreme Court issued stern directives on Tuesday, November 7, urging the governments of Punjab, Rajasthan, and Haryana to take immediate measures to halt the practice of stubble burning by farmers, which has been identified as a major contributor to air pollution.
The Court placed responsibility on the local State House Officer, under the supervision of the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police, to prevent crop burning. It also ordered a meeting to be convened promptly between the states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan to ensure the cessation of crop burning.
Furthermore, the Delhi Government was instructed to ensure that municipal solid waste is not incinerated within the city. The Court expressed dissatisfaction with the performance of smog towers installed by the Delhi Government, labeling the situation as ‘ludicrous,’ and directed immediate repairs.
Additionally, the Court demanded that only taxis registered in Delhi be allowed to operate within the capital, as a substantial number of taxis from other states with only one passenger were observed in the region.
The presiding judge of the bench, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, emphasized the urgency of stopping stubble burning, stating, “We want it (stubble burning) stopped. We don’t know how you do it; it’s your job. But it must be stopped. Something has to be done immediately.” He further emphasized that stubble burning, while not the sole contributor, is a significant factor in the air pollution crisis.
Acknowledging the economic motivations behind stubble burning, the Punjab Advocate General suggested that the Central Government provide subsidies to facilitate the adoption of alternative solutions. The Court recorded this suggestion, highlighting the need for a switch to alternative crops in place of paddy, which is not a native crop of Punjab. The Court suggested that the Central Government explore the possibility of providing Minimum Support Price (MSP) for other crops rather than paddy.
The Court underscored the need to phase out paddy cultivation and switch to alternative crops to address the problem of stubble burning effectively. It also noted the misuse of MSP for paddy, with paddy from adjacent states being illegally brought into Punjab to claim MSP, exacerbating the problem.
The Court emphasized the importance of prompt action by all stakeholders and directed the Cabinet Secretary to convene a meeting with them on the matter. The Court also mandated the strict implementation of the Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act 2009 by the State of Punjab.
The Court committed to monitoring progress in the case and expressed the urgency of addressing the ongoing health problems faced by Delhi residents due to air quality issues. It stressed the need for immediate attention and court monitoring, irrespective of whether the situation improves.