Stubble Burning, Air Pollution, Governments And Supreme Court

Vipin Pubby

Vipin Pubby

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“Now the cat is out of the bag. Farmers’ stubble burning is contributing only 4 per cent. It’s insignificant.”

It is that time of the year when severe pollution fills up the atmosphere over national capital region (NCR) and large parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. It happens every year and is getting worse each year but the focus on the issue remains only till the advent of winter rains which lead to re-emergence of blue sky over the region.


Both the central government and the Delhi Government had been pointing fingers at the farmers burning stubble as the main culprits for the hazardous condition of air in the region. This was partly because the paddy harvesting and stubble burning to prepare the fields for the next crop coincides with the worst period of pollution.

There is no doubt that the practise of stubble burning is bad both for the atmosphere as well as for the fields which loose natural nutrients in fire. The smoke emitted by burning fields cause pollution in the areas where such fields are located.

The currently available machines and equipment to deal with stubble is certainly very expensive and government subsidies are too low.

A comprehensive plan, which should also include efforts at diversification of crops in Punjab and Haryana aimed at bringing down area under paddy and wheat, must be planned for a long term solution of the problem.


However, blaming farmers every year for contributing a major share to the pollution in the northern region has been exposed by none other than the central government’s affidavit in the Supreme Court. It has busted the myth that stubble burning was the main culprit.

The affidavit, filed by Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, cited a scientific study to say that the contribution of smoke due to stubble burning is only 4 per cent in winter and 7 per cent in summer.

The study said 85 per cent pollution is caused by various sectors – residential (10 per cent), industry (30 per cent), dust (17 per cent) and transport (28 per cent).

Yet there were contradictions in the stand taken by the government. An annexure in the affidavit, which gave details of the minutes of the seventh meeting of the Commission for Air Quality Management in NCR and adjoining areas held on November 14, said,

“Efforts need to be intensified to control the instances of stubble burning to minimum as currently the paddy stubble burning has been contributing about 35-40 per cent total pollution load in Delhi-NCR”.

Apparently this figure was based on a surmise and was not based on any study.

Taking note of the government’s admission that stubble burning contributed just four per cent to the pollution in winters, the Supreme Court bench questioned whether the “hue and cry” surrounding the stubble burning was without scientific and legal basis.

Justice Chandrachud, who is part of the bench, commented : “Now the cat is out of the bag. Farmers’ stubble burning is contributing only 4 per cent. It’s insignificant.”

While there can be no two opinions on the need to stop the practice of stubble burning by introducing alternative viable methods, the NCR region must come up with a coordinated plan to deal with the issue which has given it the tag of the most polluted region in the world.

It is indeed sad that the seat of the central government is the worst affected and its residents have to use air purifiers in their houses to help clean the air. However vast majority of population can’t even afford the purchase such purifiers and have no alternative but to breathe the heavily polluted air.

The Delhi government also failed to keep an effective check on bursting of fire crackers on Diwali and even a week after the festival. It should have imposed heavy fines on violators and should have taken other steps like introduction of work from here and temporary closure of schools and colleges. Supreme Court has now directed it to do so but the government must ensure that it takes such measures in advance from next year.


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Vipin Pubby

Vipin Pubby

The author, a freelance journalist, is a former Resident Editor of Indian Express, Chandigarh, and reported on the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in his long, illustrious career.

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