STUBBLE BURNING – FIELDS ON FIRE
Stubble Burning pertains to setting fire to crop residue or paddy to remove them from the field in order to sow the next crop. For the purpose of planting the next winter crop (Rabi crop), farmers have to move in a noticeably short interval and if they are late, due to short winters these days, they might face considerable losses. Ergo, burning could be termed as the cheapest and quickest way to get rid of the stubble. If stubble is left in the field, pests like termites may attack the upcoming crop. Further, the precarious economic condition of farmers does not allow them to use expensive mechanized methods to remove stubble.
Effects of Stubble Burning on the Environment:
The act of stubble burning may be termed as a serious health hazard. Firstly, it affects the organic carbon levels of the soil and also produces a hefty amount of harmful smoke that causes air pollution to the immediate vicinity. The toxic pollutants comprising of the harmful gases such as Methane, Volatile Organic Compound, Carbon Monoxide, and Carcinogenic Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons create an unyielding amount of cumulative danger that has the risky potential to travel thousands of kilometers increasing the level of air pollution in nearby cities by completely wrecking the air quality index and becoming the cause of numerous health issues. Moreover, the burning of stubble contributes to the formation of brown clouds which has an adverse impact on the crushing problem of climate change.
Ban on Stubble Burning:
The apex court heard the case to address the nation’s deteriorating air quality and the bench stressed enough on the environmental consequences pertaining to stubble burning.
In the case of M.C. Mehta v. Union of India & others (2019), it was pleaded for the State Governments to dedicate these machines, modern equipment for the service of small and marginal farmers for the time being even if necessary free of cost. It was suggested by the Attorney General that the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Environment and Forests and the States of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and the Government of NCT of Delhi to draw up an all-inclusive scheme to shed light on the environmental issues and all such ancillary issues with respect to taking care of providing small and marginal farmers with modern and hi-tech equipment. The counsel appearing for farmers pleaded that certain petitions are pending. As prayed jointly in “Charanpal Singh Bagri Vs. Union of India & Others”, “Bhartikisan Union Vs. Union of India and Others”, the petitions are filed by the farmers in the High Court of Punjab and Haryana, they are transferred to this Court for being heard along with this matter.
It is pointed out in the tables extracted in the order dated 04.11.2019 passed by this court that there are various factors which are contributing to the pollution in Delhi such as construction and demolition, garbage, dumping of waste in the open, road dust, unpaved roads/pit, garbage burning and also traffic congestion.
Justice Arun Mishra, one of the judges taking the chair over the hearing, stated that the farmers in Punjab and Haryana cannot kill others for their own livelihood. He also pointed out that stubble burning is not only harming the people of Delhi but also the residents in their states.
On 4th November 2019, the Supreme Court ordered the governments of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to immediately curb their farmers from the process of stubble burning. The court declared that any offence of stubble burning would be penalised from further on and the local and civic bodies would be held liable for the same. The farmers could be arrested under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 which deals with disobeying the order duly promulgated by a public servant.
Directions issued by the Court:
The Court issued a number of directions to be followed for the purpose of reducing pollution in Delhi National Capital Region (NCR).
Directions are as follows:
(a) Ban on construction and demolition activities. Violation of the same would lead to a fine of Rs. 1 lakh.
(b) Ban on the burning of garbage in open dumps. Violation of the same would lead to a penalty of Rs. 5000
(c) Ban on the use of diesel generators in Delhi NCR until further notice.
Right to Environment under Art. 21:
In the case of Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar, the apex court held that the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution is a fundamental right and it does include the right to a pollution free environment for the full enjoyment of life. Further, in the case of Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra v. State of U.P. & Others, the right to clean environment was upheld.
Is Stubble Burning the only Culprit ?
According to the Central Pollution Control Board, the act of stubble burning has made a significant contribution to Delhi NCR’s air pollution in 2019 with the share of stubble smoke in particulate matter rising to 44%. Further, according to the Ministry of Earth Sciences’ air quality monitor SAFAR, the smoke released from the burning in Punjab & Haryana accounted for 44% of pollution in Delhi in November 2019.
Former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda said that,
“Stubble Burning is a serious issue. Rather than blaming the farmers, a solution should be found to this. Stubble Burning is not the only reason, there are many reasons for this. The government should find solutions to all of them.”
Further, stubble burning can be termed as a major cause of air pollution, but not the only one. The other sources which are slightly dark shadowed amidst the light on stubble burning are garbage burning, road dust, power plants, industries, factories and vehicles or transport.
Delhi NCR has over 10 million registered vehicles in the city, which are roughly responsible for 41% of the pollution. The number of vehicles has risen four-fold in the past two decades, throwing light on how sources of pollution carry forward to outperform the mitigation measures. During the tenure of Arvind Kejriwal (AAP), Delhi saw the odd-even scheme which began on January 1, 2016 and ended on November 11, 2017. The odd-even scheme of the Delhi government is mainly a traffic controlling measure under which private vehicles with registration numbers ending with an odd digit shall be permitted on roads on odd dates and those with an even digit just on even dates. Although, the implementation of this rule dwelled slightly towards the impractical side since it led to quite a few hardships to people. The Delhi Metro does not connect to all areas which makes it difficult. Moreover, no major curbing result of air pollution was seen through this scheme.
Further, there are close to 3,180 industries located across Delhi NCR which also contributes to the pollution. There are four thermal power plants in Delhi, two are coal-based including the Badarpur Power Plant and two are gas based. The suburbs of NCT have approximately 360 brick kilns majorly dispersed in Jhajjar, Ghaziabad and Faridabad region. Since, their peak business month commences from December to June, consequently the emissions from these brick kilns rises during the winter months. This is why stopping construction activities, including hot mix plants, stone crushers, brick kilns are among the first emergency measures taken post Diwali. The Public Health Emergency was declared in Delhi NCR on the afternoon of 1st November 2019 after the air quality plunged to severe plus levels. The pollution authority banned the firecrackers, odd-even car rationing schemes, banning of trucks were taken under the Graded Response Action Plan.
Punjab & Haryana Action Plan:
The Punjab & Haryana governments have submitted their action plan to a Supreme Court-mandated panel. Initially, the states have proposed for setting up Custom hiring Centres (CRCs). The basic purpose of the same would be to provide farm equipment on a rental basis to the farmers who cannot afford high-end equipment for crop residue management. Further, according to the Punjab government’s statement to the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA), they have also been utilising crop residue through biomass-based power plants and various bio-CNG products are also under process. The State has also proposed to set up a 25-megawatt solar biomass project. The state has also launched a mobile application to help farmers rent machinery to manage crop residue. The Haryana government notified EPCA about a committee being set up to look into the progress of bio-CNG and bio-ethanol projects and biomass plants regarding the crop residue. The state has set up 2,879 CHCs and 2,000 more will be established by October. Approximately, 791 balers will be supplied close to the time harvesting starts. A mobile application is also being promoted for providing machinery to farmers on a rental basis. The state has also inaugurated "Bhavantar Bharpai Yojana", a scheme for encouraging cultivation of vegetables. 1,09,000 hectares of land has already been redirected from paddy to various other crops such as maize, cotton and millet.
Amidst all this, stubble burning has also played a significant role in causing the pollution and there is no denial towards that. Although, some sensible alternatives could be made applicable considering the narrow financial conditions of the farmers and stubble burning being their traditional method for getting rid of the paddy. When we talk about Punjab, the state government, as a part of its stubble management strategy, has given additional 23,500 Agri-machines to the farmers this year and has deployed 8,000 nodal officers in paddy growing villages of Punjab to check crop residue burning.
They will create awareness in villages through demonstration of machines used in straw management, distribution of pamphlets or leaflets and announcements from gurudwaras or by other modes. The state government has also made a request to the Centre to provide Rs 100 per quintal as compensation to enable farmers to look forward to the paddy straw without burning it.
Other than this, the stubble can also prove to be useful. A start-up founded in the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IITD) has exemplified how biomass can be transformed into utilitarian products like biodegradable tableware. One of the methods included a demonstration unit for converting rice straw into cups and plates which can be a substitute for currently used plastic-lined paper plates. Millions tones of paddy straw are burnt in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh every year around this time. This start-up named Kriya established a demonstration plant that can process 10 to 15 kilograms of straw every day.
Other than this, one can also use hemp, coir banana and corn residues apart from paddy since it is biodegradable and turns manure into soil, and when thrown into water it can provide as feed for algae and some other varieties of plants.
India is an agrarian economy and its allied activities account for the major population of rural India. In this scenario, the farmers burn the stubble in late September and October each year. Stubble Burning has proved to be harmful to the environment. Although, it can’t be termed as the sole source of pollution since the entire burden would be dropped on the farmer’s shoulders. The farmers have been using stubble burning since it is a traditional and easy method. The government needs to provide financial assistance and learning techniques for the hi-end equipment to the farmers to curb the method of stubble burning and improve the agricultural output as well.
 2019 SCC SC 1733  https://www.indiacode.nic.in/show-data?actid=AC_CEN_5_23_00037_186045_1523266765688§ionId=45943§ionno=188&orderno=214  1991 AIR 420 https://www.constitutionofindia.net/constitution_of_india/fundamental_rights/articles/Article%2021#:~:text=Draft%20Constitution%2C%201948-,No%20person%20shall%20be%20deprived%20of%20his%20life%20or%20personal,within%20the%20territory%20of%20India.  1985 AIR 652  https://ekharid.in/Home/BhavantarBharpaiiYojana  http://www.kriyalabs.co.in/ Authored By: Isha Shah
SVKM’s Pravin Gandhi College of Law