SC appoints ex-judge MB Lokur as one-man panel to monitor steps to prevent stubble-burning

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New Delhi, October 16

The Supreme Court on Friday appointed Justice (retd) Madan B Lokur as a one-man committee to monitor the measures taken by states of Punjab, Haryana, UP and Delhi to prevent farmers from resorting to stubble-burning that turns the entire NCR into a virtual gas chamber during October-November.

“It is necessary that there must be some monitoring of stubble-burning with a view to its prevention before it assumes abnormal proportions,” a Bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde said.

It directed chief secretaries of Punjab, Haryana, UP and Delhi and EPCA to assist the committee in physical surveillance of fields where stubble was likely to be burnt and to devise additional means/methods for preventing it.

“This order is not an indictment of any agency…We are only concerned that people in Delhi-NCR must be able to breathe clean and fresh air… While the court is shut (for Dussehra) we don’t want anything to happen during these nine days,” the CJI said.

The committee is required to visit the affected states and submit fortnightly reports to the top court at the initial stages or “as and when found necessary”.

The Bench asked heads of National Cadet Corps, National Service Scheme (NSS) and Bharat Scouts and Guides to provide young force to the panel for locating stubble burning and bringing it to notice of authorities concerned to prevent it.

The order came on a fresh petition filed by two students—Aditya Dubey and Aman Banka—who suggested that Justice Lokur could be assigned the task.

On behalf of the petitioners, senior counsel Vikas Singh pointed out that “there is a grave concern about the quality of air in the National Capital Region and that the quality is dropping rapidly. This is due to several factors, including the practice of stubble-burning in the neighbouring states of Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh and certain activities in the NCR of Delhi.”

Singh said despite several measures taken, there was a reported increase in the amount of stubble-burning, leading to increased pollution in Delhi-NCR.

On behalf of Punjab senior counsel PS Narsimha and for Haryana Additional Advocate General Anil Grover pointed out that several steps had been taken for stopping stubble-burning in the two states, including developing an App which can help in identification and notification of the particular field in which someone has burnt stubble.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the Bench that the government had reservations about appointment of Justice Lokur committee for monitoring stubble-burning and the EPCA was already doing the job.

The court made it clear that appointment of the Committee was not intended to dilute the powers, functions and the authority of any authorities such as EPCA, already created.

“The object of appointing a Committee is more to facilitate and coordinate the activities of different authorities so that the problem is resolved. The different authorities created by the States/Centre, shall also be free, to carry on their own activities, without feeling muted by the appointment of the Committee,” it said.

The court will further hear the matter on October 26.

The top court is already seized of a PIL on air pollution in NCR. It has been asking states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi and the Centre to take measures to ensure farmers don’t indulge in stubble burning.

Despite a ban on stubble-burning in Punjab and Haryana, farmers continue to do so because of lack of financial incentives to switch over to environment-friendly farm waste management practices.

Last year, Punjab produced around 20 million tonnes of paddy residue of which farmers burnt 9.8 million tonnes of it, while the figures in Haryana stood at 7 million tonnes and 1.23 million tonnes, respectively.

On October 6, the top court had agreed to examine a suggestion that a portion of Minimum Support Price (MSP) should be withheld from farmers and released later only after a verification that they didn’t burn stubble.

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