SC directs Punjab, Haryana & UP to stop stubble burning

A farmer burns paddy stubble in a village on the outskirts of Amritsar. (PTI Photo)

The Supreme Court on Monday passed a slew of directions to curb alarming pollution levels in Delhi and said that officers from the level of chief secretary to those at gram panchayats will be held liable if any incident of stubble burning was henceforth reported from Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh.

The apex court also stopped all construction and demolition activities as well as garbage and waste burning in the Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR) till further orders.

“Delhi is choking. It is happening every year. The right to life is the most important thing. The state machinery is not acting... you are passing bucks against each other. It is the total failure of machinery. It is worse than the Emergency,” an anguished bench of justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta told the counsel from the Union government and the states of Punjab, Haryana and others.

The bench said it was at a loss to understand why such a situation couldn’t be prevented.

“States are responsible for it. But they are interested only in electioneering. They have to be liable for tort,” the court said, adding that various state governments and civic bodies have failed to take measures to curb growing pollution and stop stubble burning, particularly in Punjab and Haryana.

The court said pollution was reducing people’s lifespan, which was a blatant violation of right to life. “People are being advised not to come back to Delhi. There can’t be an exodus and people can’t be evacuated from the capital city,” the bench said, adding that it had no sympathy for farmers who resorted to stubble burning and put the lives of other citizens at risk.

The Supreme Court also questioned the efficacy of the odd-even scheme of the Delhi government, wondering how it would help reduce air pollution as people would use more taxis and autos for travel.

After seeking suggestions from an officer of the Ministry of Environment and Forest, Environment and Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority, chairman Bhure Lal and environmentalist Sunita Narain and amicus curiae, senior advocate Aparajita Singh, the court directed the chief secretaries of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and district collector, tahsildar, IG and SP to ensure that not a single incident of stubble burning takes place henceforth.

In case of any violation, officers up to the sarpanch-level will be held responsible, the bench said.

The court also banned all construction and demolition activities in Delhi and NCR and directed shutdown of all industries which were not essential. It also ordered for imposing Rs 1 lakh fine for construction and demolition and Rs 5,000 for garbage burning.

The court sought the personal presence of chief secretaries of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday for further consideration of the matter.

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