X Close
X

Punjab parties hit out at Kejriwal as stubble burning's contribution behind Delhi pollution remains unclear in SC


Delhi_Pollution_AP

CHANDIGARH:  The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) asked CM Arvind Kejriwal to apologise to Punjabis for launching a defamation campaign by holding them responsible for Delhi’s air pollution status.

The SAD said due to this defamation by the AAP Convenor, Punjabis were being heavily penalised and have had to even face the Congress Government following Kejriwal’s lead, instead of providing any alternative to reduce stubble burning. 

SAD Spokesman Dr Daljit Singh Cheema said, “This twin attack on the innocent farmers of Punjab led by Kejriwal and supported by the state Congress government was aimed at painting our farmers as villains when the truth is completely different. After it had become clear that most of the air pollution in Delhi was caused by the industrial and transport sector, and that stubble burning only contributed a tiny four to 10 per cent to this pollution, Kejriwal owed an apology to the farmers of the State.”

Cheema said Kejriwal had been thoroughly exposed by the Supreme Court for mouthing lies about farmers being responsible for Delhi’s air pollution.

He said the apex court had also rightly pointed out to the politics being played on the issue of pollution by Kejriwal by highlighting how public money was being spent on popularity slogans. 

“It is also a fact that the Delhi government could not enumerate the steps it had taken to improve the quality of air in Delhi,” Cheema said. 

Over 67,000 farm fire incidents have been recorded across Punjab this season despite penalties imposed by the authorities and efforts made for the management of crop residue, officials said on Monday.

Farmers have kept flouting the ban on paddy stubble burning across the state, they said.

More than 1,700 and 2,500 farm fire incidents were witnessed on Monday and Sunday respectively, with Sangrur district accounting for most of them, they said.

To curb the practice, the state government has so far imposed an environmental compensation of Rs 2.46 crore on erring growers, said an official of the Punjab Pollution Control Board.

Punjab has seen 67,165 stubble burning incidents till Monday.

A total of 65,404 farm fire incidents were recorded till Sunday, as against 73,893 registered till November 14 last year, the official added.

Though the number of farm fires this year so far is less than last year, it has crossed the 2019 figures.

Punjab had seen 76,590 incidents of field fires in 2020 as compared to 52,991 in 2019, as per the data.

The farm fires continued unabated despite the state government deputing nodal officers across Punjab to check these and giving more machines for management of crop residue.

Farmers burn paddy stubble in order to clear their fields to sow the next crop, but the fumes of these fires cause air pollution.

According to farmers, it is not feasible for them, especially small and marginal growers, to purchase farm machinery for the management of crop residue.

"We want the government to give us Rs 200 per quintal as bonus for management of paddy straw," said Bharti Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) general secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan.

Farmers of Punjab and Haryana are often blamed for causing air pollution by burning paddy straw.

Punjab alone generates an estimated 20 million tonnes of paddy stubble annually.

Meanwhile, the contribution of stubble burning in worsening air pollution in Delhi-NCR remained unclear on Monday in the Supreme Court with the Centre citing different figures on this aspect.

While Solicitor General Tushar Mehta during the hearing claimed that the stubble burning only contribute 10 per cent of the air pollution, senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the petitioners seeking action to curb air pollution, pointed out that the Centre's Sunday meeting had recorded a finding that stubble burning is responsible for 35-40 per cent in Delhi air pollution.

As the hearing before a bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana commenced, Singh submitted that he had some suggestions to make and opposed a complete ban on construction activity saying it needs to be regulated.

He said the Centre was not willing to take strong measures because of the upcoming assembly elections in Punjab and sought for the constitution of an independent commission to oversee the process.

The senior lawyer also said that the Centre has made a wrong statement in court today on the contribution of stubble burning in air pollution as their Sunday meeting had recorded a finding that stubble burning is responsible for 35-40 per cent of Delhi air pollution.

However, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta during the hearing referred to a figure of 10 per cent and said stubble burning is one of the factors.

"I must admit that stubble burning now is not a major contributor to the pollution, as of now it's 10 per cent is what I have been told. Road dust majorly contributes to pollution. States and their agencies must be in complete readiness to implement emergency measures."

"Increase frequency of mechanised cleaning of roads & sprinkling of water inroads. Ensure closing of stone crushers in Delhi NCR. So far as the Badarpur plant is concerned, we haven't directed its shut down. Stop use of coal or firewood in hotels or eateries," he said.

As Mehta made submissions," the bench said, "on the last date we had pointed out that emergency steps are required to be taken. The suggestions you're pointing to could be part of a long-term plan. How many mechanised road cleaning machines are available in Delhi."

"Are you agreeing that stubble burning is not the main cause? That hue and cry have no scientific or factual basis," it asked, and referred to a chart to show that it contributes four per cent to the overall air pollution.

Referring to the Centre's affidavit, the top court said that 75 per cent of the air pollution is due to three factors -- industry, dust, and transport.

"In the last hearing (on Saturday), we mentioned stubble burning is not a major issue, city-related issues are there. So if you take steps on them, the situation will improve", the bench also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant said.

"In fact now the cat is out of the bag, the farmers' stubble burning contributes to only 4 per cent of the pollution as per the chart. So we are targeting something which is totally insignificant", the bench said.

The court also directed the Centre to hold an emergency meeting on the pollution crisis and by Tuesday decide on steps like stopping non-essential construction, transport, power plants and implementing work from home to tackle the situation, saying "the cat is out of the bag" now as the "hue and cry" over stubble burning being a big contributor was without any basis.

Ordering the Centre to hold the meeting with the secretaries concerned of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, the bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana said, "In fact, now the cat is out of the bag, the farmers stubble burning contributes to 4 percent of the pollution. So, we are targeting something which is totally insignificant".

It pulled up the city government for making 'lame excuses' and passing the buck to civic bodies for not taking emergent measures in handling the crisis.

The bench, also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant, said that construction, industry, transport, power and vehicular traffic are the major culprits in causing pollution and asked the Centre to take steps regarding these factors.

"Even though some decisions were taken by the Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Act it has not indicated precisely what steps they are going to take to control factors that are causing air pollution," it said.

"In view of that, we direct the government of India to call for an emergency meeting tomorrow and discuss the areas which we indicated and what orders they can pass to effectively control air pollution.

"So far as the stubble burning is concerned, broadly affidavits state that their contribution is not so much except for two months. However, at present a good amount of stubble burning is taking place in Haryana and Punjab," the bench said, adding that the farmers be urged not to burn stubble for two weeks.

It directed the Centre and the NCR states to examine introducing work from home for employees.

At the outset, senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the petitioners, submitted that he wanted to make some suggestions and submitted that construction should be regulated rather than being banned.

He said the Centre was not willing to take strong measures in view of the upcoming assembly elections in Punjab and sought for the constitution of an independent commission to oversee the process.

The top court said, "We're in the midst of a crisis situation, we can't deal with new issues like the constitution of a committee. The government has filed a detailed affidavit. With reference to those steps you can make suggestions."

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta opposed him saying, "My friend (Singh) has a different agenda".

The bench intervened: "You want to fight or you want to argue. We are not concerned with elections and politics. Yesterday also we had clarified we are not concerned with politics, we only want pollution to come down. Why bring up elections. We are in the middle of a crisis situation. We can't conjure up new solutions".

The bench then asked Mehta about the outcome of the meeting with the secretaries of the Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh governments.

He submitted that a lockdown would be the most drastic measure taken to curb air pollution in Delhi-NCR.

The other measures that could be taken would be an odd-even scheme for vehicular movement and a ban on the entry of trucks into the capital, he submitted.

Mehta told the bench that the Haryana government took the same steps including implementing work from home for employees.

'We have suggested increasing parking fees to 3-4 times, so those who travel for no reason will avoid doing so. If the air quality goes to very poor, use of diesel generators will be stopped except in emergency cases like hospitals. Public transport will have to be boosted including an increase in bus and metro services. This is what we suggested to the Delhi government," he said.

He further submitted that stubble burning now is not a major contributor to the pollution.

"I must admit that stubble burning now is not a major contributor to the pollution, as of now it's 10 per cent is what I have been told. Road dust majorly contributes to pollution. States and its agencies must be in complete readiness to implement emergency measures. Increase frequency of mechanised cleaning of roads & sprinkling of water in roads. Ensure closing of stone crushers in Delhi NCR. So far as the Badarpur plant is concerned, we haven't directed its shut down. Stop use of coal or firewood in hotels or eateries," he said.

As Mehta made submissions," the bench said, "On the last date we had pointed out that emergency steps are required to be taken.

The suggestions you're pointing to could be part of a long term plan.

How many mechanised road cleaning machines are available in Delhi."

"Are you agreeing that stubble burning is not the main cause? That hue and cry has no scientific or factual basis," it asked, and referred to a chart to show that it contributes four per cent to the overall air pollution.

Referring to Centre's affidavit, it said that 75 per cent of the air pollution is due to three factors -- industry, dust and transport.

"In the last hearing (on Saturday), we mentioned stubble burning is not a major issue, city related issues are there. So if you take steps on them, the situation will improve," the bench said, adding that it had mentioned issues like dust, industry and vehicular emission being major contributors.

"So if you take steps on them, the situation will improve. You focus on these issues," the bench said.

Mehta told the court that all the states are doing their best and a total of 85,000 KM length of roads has been swept in Delhi.

The bench said that as per Delhi government 69 Mechanical Road Sweeper (MRS) machines have been deployed by it, and asked whether they are sufficient.

Delhi government counsel Rahul Mehra said the municipal corporations are the ones which see all this as they are "independent and autonomous bodies".

Irked, the bench shot back: "You' are passing the buck to MCD again. This kind of lame excuse will compel us to find out and hold an audit inquiry into the total revenue you are collecting and spending on popularity slogans instead of looking after people."

On the machines, Mehra said, "Whatever is required, there's a commitment from from top of the Government, the Lieutenant Governor and the Council of Ministers."

"That's not the statement we want. Everyone is committed. It's the steps taken on ground level that's important," the CJI said.

Mehra then sought to take instructions in relation to Court's query from the Special Secretary.

He later informed the Court that 69 machines are currently and once the MCD informs how many machines are required. Funds will be issued immediately by the Delhi Government.

The top court also expressed displeasure over the earlier emergency meeting and said: "This is not the way we expected an executive emergency meeting will be held. It is unfortunate that we have to set the agenda. The sum and substance is construction, power, transport, dust and stubble burning are the issues. Ask the committee created and decide how to implement the action plan by tomorrow evening."

The apex court was hearing a plea filed by environmental activist Aditya Dubey and law student Aman Banka, who sought directions to provide stubble-removing machines to small and marginal farmers for free.

It had earlier raised concern over the worsening air quality in Delhi-NCR and appointed a one-man panel of Justice (retd) Lokur to monitor the steps taken by the neighbouring states to prevent stubble burning, while brushing aside objections from the Centre, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.

In an affidavit filed before the top court, the Ministry of Environment and Forests submitted that the legislature had enacted the Commission of Quality Management in the National Capital Region Adjoining Areas Act, 2021 and under Section 12, it has been empowered to take all measures, issue directions and entertain complaints about the purpose of protecting and improving the air quality of the National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas.

The Ministry identified seven major contributing factors to air pollution which include -- Dust management, Industrial pollution, Agricultural stubble burning, Vehicular pollution, Burning of biomass/municipal solid waste causing pollution and fire in sanitary landfill sites, Bursting of firecrackers, and unfavorable meteorological conditions in Delhi NCR region particularly during the winter season.

The affidavit suggested increasing parking fees to 3-4 times, so those who travel for no reason will avoid doing so.

"If the air quality goes to very poor, use of diesel generators will be stopped except in emergency cases like hospitals. The public transport will have to be boosted including an increase in bus and metro services," the affidavit said.

Noting that road dust majorly contributes to pollution, the ministry said States and their agencies must be in complete readiness to implement emergency measures.

"Increase frequency of mechanised cleaning of roads & sprinkling of water in roads. Ensure closing of stone crushers in Delhi NCR. Stop the use of coal or firewoods in hotels or eateries. Stringently enforce and stop garbage burning," the affidavit said.

The ministry stated that various long term measures need to be taken which include ambient air quality monitoring network, air quality forecast, measures for controlling Vehicular emission, quickly shifting from BS-IV to BS-VI fuel standards, collection of toll, and Environment Compensation charges from commercial vehicles entering Delhi and ban on all diesel vehicles older than 10 years and petrol vehicles older than 15 years among others.

The affidavit states that certain factors contribute for a limited period, but have a larger impact and referred to stubble burning (mainly paddy) in neighbouring states which takes place generally for October and November.

"It is further pointed out that bursting of crackers during Dussehra and Diwali is a contributory factor, and the severity of pollution increases since these two incidents coincide every year. The North-West flowing winds into Delhi NCR and the fact that the peculiar condition of no flow of winds in NCR is also stated to aggravate the impact of stubble burning by encouraging the accumulation of pollutants in the region," the affidavit said.

(With PTI Inputs)

(THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS)