New Delhi, November 21
As air quality index in Delhi-NCR continues to be “very poor” due to raging farm fires in Punjab and other neighbouring states, the Supreme Court on Tuesday suggested stopping paddy MSP for farmers burning stubble to deal with the problem that affected the health of millions of people.
“The stick must also follow the carrot. Why should people who, despite all observations of the court and despite counseling, continue violating the law be allowed to benefit monetarily? People who have been identified as having lit fires should not be allowed to sell their produce under this system. There should be something that pinches,” a Bench of Justice Sanjay Kishan and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia said.
“Why should any purchase be made under the minimum support price system from people violating the orders and lighting fires, regardless of how this affects the people, the children?” it said.
Noting that the MSP policy can’t be done away with, Justice Dhulia suggested that farmers burning stubble should not be allowed to grow rice. Terming it a “sensitive issue”, he said, “You can only pick persons…”
As Attorney General R Venkataramani said MSP policy was a “complex issue”, the Bench said the high-powered committee headed by Cabinet Secretary could examine it after receiving inputs from state governments. The Bench, however, left the actual decision to the wisdom of the government.
Amicus Curiae Aparajita Singh complained that even on Sunday, over 700 farm fire incidents were reported from Punjab. The Bench said there must be some reasons behind farmers burning stubble, the Bench said, “The farmer is being made a villain and he is not being heard. He must have some reasons for burning the stubble.”
The top court expressed serious concern over the decline in water table in Punjab. “What concerns me is that the land in Punjab is becoming arid slowly because the water table is getting depleted. If the land runs dry, everything else will get affected. Somewhere the farmers should understand or be made to understand the consequences of growing paddy,” Justice Kaul said.
Maintaining that the top court was not an expert on these issues, the Bench asked the Attorney General to explore as to how Punjab farmers could be discouraged from cultivating paddy and persuaded to shift to alternative crops. It posted the matter for further hearing on December 7.
“It’s for you to work out the mechanism. You can’t say rice will continue to grow, the land will continue to run dry and no water will be left there because the MSP aspect is complex and because you don’t want to displease some groups of people… The state government and the Union Government must forget the politics of it and apply their minds to see how to stop paddy cultivation,” the Bench said.
The Bench suggested completely subsidising baling machines for poor farmers and financing their operating costs to convert stubble into a useful byproduct. It asked the Punjab Government to take a cue from the endeavours made by the Haryana Government in the manner in which financial incentives were given to farmers to dissuade them from stubble burning.
At the outset, Punjab Advocate General Gurminder Singh apprised the Bench of the measures taken by the state government to deal with the problem. He said that 984 FIRs had been lodged against land owners for farm fires and Rs two crore fines had been imposed on them of which about Rs 18 lakh had already been recovered. “We have created 618 red entries which debar farmers from taking benefits in their jamabandis,” he said.
“As of yesterday, there is a protest on the roads...They (farmers) are blocking people from accessing the fields to put out the fires. This is a law and order situation and we are dealing with it. We are going and extinguishing fires, even at midnight. As of yesterday, six districts in the state went completely fire-free,” the Advocate General told the top court.
“The states and Union must forget the politics of it and apply their minds to it to see how to stop it (residue burning). That is the bottom line. People are not concerned with how you do it and what you do and the court’s job is not to get into the nitty-gritty. The court’s job is to make you do your job, which is to stop pollution. How you do it is your problem,” the Bench said.
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