The Supreme Court on Wednesday pulled up the Punjab government for not taking any coercive steps to tackle stubble burning which led to the depletion of air quality in the national capital and asked it to ensure that this does not happen in the future.
A bench headed by Justice Mishra was hearing the issue of air pollution in New Delhi and other parts of north India. For this purpose, the court had summoned the chief secretary of Delhi, Punjab, and Haryana today.
The court took cognizance of the matter after stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana and other meteorological factors pushed Delhi's air quality level down to the 'very poor' category.
Slamming the Punjab government, Justice Mishra said, "Why was the government not ready in advance? It seems no steps are taken throughout the year."
Attorney General KK Venugopal, representing the government, told the court that "200 thousand farmers cannot be controlled". He suggested that Punjab and Haryana be divided into zones and each zone be allowed to burn stubble on specific days allotted to them.
Justice Mishra also said that the government had "failed miserably" to do their duty.
"Please ensure that there is no stubble burning take place. If you cannot do it then leave it to the court."
"It seems that there is no coordination among the officers and the state government to deal with this situation. You cannot allow people to die. How many people will suffer from asthma, cancer and other diseases?" Justice Mishra said.
The court also slammed the Haryana government and asked it about the action it will take in four districts of the state where the stubble is burnt.
The court said that nobody would be spared if they are found violating the rules and regulations.
The share of stubble burning in Delhi's pollution dropped to a meagre 3 per cent on Wednesday due to a change in the wind direction, according to the government's air quality monitoring and forecasting service SAFAR.
Punjab had on Tuesday recorded the season's highest farm fire count of 6,668 despite a recent Supreme Court order to completely halt stubble burning.
SAFAR said, "A change in the wind direction has led to a very low biomass plume intrusion in spite of the fact that the fire count observed yesterday was very high."
It said Delhi's overall air quality index improved significantly (from very poor to poor) on Wednesday, more rapidly than predicted.
"An approaching western disturbance brought cleaner air to the region. Isolated thundershower is expected for the next two days and the wind direction is likely to be southeasterly on November 7. So, no biomass intrusion," it said.
SAFAR's data showed the share of stubble burning in Delhi's PM2.5 pollution was just 3 per cent on Wednesday and is likely to be 2 per cent on Thursday.
The air quality monitor said AQI was expected to enter the moderate category in case of high rainfall on Thursday.
However, by November 8 evening, the wind direction is expected to change to northwesterly and the air quality is likely to enter the "very poor" category again, it said.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Wednesday that it was commercially viable to convert stubble into compressed natural gas (CNG) using technology, a move which will provide jobs and additional income to farmers besides reducing air pollution.
After a meeting with some experts on the matter, the chief minister said the move would require all governments to come together and work jointly.
"I had several meetings today with experts. It is technologically and commercially possible to convert stubble into CNG. This will provide jobs, additional income to farmers and solve our annual problem of pollution. However, it requires all governments to come together and work on this," Kejriwal said in a tweet.
Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal on Wednesday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to let MPs provide financial assistance to farmers in their constituencies for buying machinery to dispose of crop residue cleanly.
In a letter to the prime minister, the Union food processing minister said stubble burning was continuing unabated across North India as the farmers could not afford the expensive stubble cleaning and super seeder machines.
Therefore, parliamentarians should be allowed to use their Member of Parliament Local Area Development (MPLAD) funds to help the farmers manage crop residue in a better and effective manner, she said in the letter.
While a central scheme-- 'agricultural mechanisation for in-situ management of crop residue' in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi provides subsidy to incentivise farmers not to burn crop residue, the number of machines provided are much less than needed, she said.
Requesting the prime minister to take all measures needed to address the serious issue of stubble burning which had turned the entire region into a gas chamber, she said if MPs were allowed to purchase balers and other associated machinery for Panchayats and groups of farmers, it would go a long way in improving the environment by curbing the practice of stubble burning and reducing the air pollution levels across the region.
She further said stubble burning not only pollutes the air but also renders the soil less fertile by burning the nutrients in it.