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Air Pollution: Don't Make the Farmer a 'Villian' Before Hearing Him Out, Says SC Judge

Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia made the remark when it was brought to the notice of the court that 748 fires were lit across stubbled paddy fields in Punjab on Sunday, November 19.
Stubble burning is a popular practice for getting rid of  residues of the rice crop to prepare the land for the sowing of wheat, exacerbated by the emphasis placed on cereal production. Photo: Flickr/2011CIAT/NeilPalmer CC BY-SA 2.0.

New Delhi: Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia of the Supreme Court has objected to the framing of the farmer as a “villain” who is responsible for the pollution in the national capital, The Hindu reported.

“You are all making him [the farmer] a villain. He is not a villain. He must be having reasons for what he is doing. He is the only person who can tell us why he is doing it. But he is not here… The ‘villain’ is not being heard. He should come,” Justice Dhulia.

The judge’s remarks were in response to submissions made by amicus curiae, senior advocate Aparajita Singh, to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, November 21, that 748 fires were lit across stubbled paddy fields in Punjab on Sunday, November 19, alone.

“The Punjab government says it is doing everything. But it is not visible on the ground,” Singh pointed out to the court.

Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, who is heading the Bench, struck a divergent note to that of his fellow judge. He observed that farmers who are violating the law, despite court orders and counselling against stubble-burning, “should feel the pinch”.

“Despite court orders and counselling, for their two bit of money and no matter how the fires affect the environment and children, they do it… Why should people who violate the law benefit monetarily?” Justice Kaul asked pointedly.

He sought to know from the Punjab and Haryana governments why farmers flouting orders should be considered for minimum support price (MSP). “Take away the incentive,” Justice Kaul said sharply.

Justice Dhulia chimed in to underline that MSP is a “sensitive issue”. “There is a representative of everybody here except farmers… Farmers must be here,” Justice Dhulia noted.

In response, Justice Kaul said, “People lighting fires will not come here and people following the law need not come here.”

Meanwhile, Punjab advocate general, Gurminder Singh, told the court that 8,481 meetings had been held with farmers across the state and that the government pressed into action 1,092 flying squads to prevent stubble burning. Singh also added that so far 980 FIRs had been registered against landowners who violated the norms against setting fires, and over Rs 2 crore had been estimated as environmental compensation due.

Justice Kaul, at this stage of the hearing, rued that land in Punjab is becoming arid due to extensive cultivation of paddy. “Somewhere, farmers have to understand the fallout of paddy cultivation… Whether there can be a policy by which you [the government] could discourage paddy and encourage other crops in Punjab… water is becoming scarce and the wells are running dry,” he pointed out.

The apex court had earlier, on November 7, ordered the state governments of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan to ensure that stubble burning is stopped “forthwith” as an immediate measure to protect the lives and health of people.

“Pollution is not a political game where one state shifts the blame to another depending on the ruling political dispensation… This [pollution] is a murder of the health of the people. You see children in Delhi suffering from health issues,” Justice Kaul had said.

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