The Supreme Court on Tuesday (21 November) questioned the Punjab government about its inability to cover the costs of manpower and running expenses for crop residue management machines, which would ultimately benefit marginal farmers without any financial burden.
The court emphasised the need for both the central and state governments to set aside political differences regarding Minimum Support Price (MSP) and instead focus on devising strategies that would assist farmers in transitioning to alternative crops instead of paddy.
A two-judge bench presided by Justice S K Kaul was discussing the options to tackle stubble burning in Punjab, one of the major contributors to air pollution in the National Capital Region (NCR).
During the discussion, Senior Advocate Amicus Curiae Aparajitha Singh highlighted the fact that although there is a subsidy for purchasing machines, there is no cost associated with hiring them from custom hiring centres.
Punjab Advocate General Gurminder Singh highlighted the concern that farmers would face the challenge of affording the necessary manpower and fuel to operate the machinery.
“What the Advocate General says is the machine requires fuel, manpower etc. The bottom line of the submission is the farmer doesn’t want to spend a penny. Then how will the byproduct come out? The farmer possibly is not interested or doesn’t want the economics of it. If that is the position, that is what I was suggesting…why don’t you fund this part of it also and use the byproduct and recover money,” Justice S K Kaul asked the AG, Indian Express reported.
In its order, the court questioned the Attorney General about why the state cannot allocate funds for this particular aspect and utilise the byproduct to generate enough funds to cover the subsidy.
"We say so because there are farmers operating on different economic scales where they are able to gain even a profit out of this byproduct by using these machines," the court said.
The AG said that this can also be considered by the Committee set up in pursuance of the court’s order under chairmanship of the cabinet secretary and added, “our contribution will be forthcoming”.
The bench also asked the Punjab government to “take a cue from the endeavours made by the state of Haryana in the manner in which financial incentives are given…” to stop stubble burning.
The Amicus expressed concern about the ongoing fires in Punjab, stating that even on Sunday, there were 740 fires still burning.
"What are they doing? They come before you and say on affidavit that they are doing everything. But what are they doing on the ground?” the Amicus added.
“That’s the problem. The only person who can answer is the farmer. He can tell you why he is doing it…Farmer is being made a villain…He is not a villain He must be having some reason for doing so… These questions are very pertinent. Why is he doing it? Nobody has an answer for it… State is not being able to give us an answer for it also,” Justice Dhulia said.
Justice Kaul said that “to my thinking process, the bottom line is money”.
The bench reiterated it warning regarding the potential depletion of the water table to the dangerous level in the state if paddy cultivation persists. It also called for the measures to sensitise farmers about this.
It may be working well now because it’s between crops. But if land runs dry, everything else also gets affected. The farmers must be made to understand the consequences,” said Justie Kaul.
According to the amicus, farmers had said in 2019 that they were growing paddy solely because of the MSP and not because they actually wanted to grow it.
The court emphasised the importance of addressing the issue of Minimum Support Price (MSP) and suggested that authorities should consider discouraging the cultivation of paddy.
“The concerned authorities may consider whether to discourage growing paddy. They can have a scenario of some MSP…Please explore whether you would take steps to discourage growing paddy and encourage growing an alternative crop," the court said.
The court stated that it is necessary for the committee to investigate the issue of discouraging rice cultivation, particularly due to the high water demand it places on wells.
"The long-term impact would be disastrous. Persons concerned must put their head together to see how to encourage switching over to alternative crops," it added.
Justice Kaul remarked that ‘the MSP aspect is complex because you don’t want to displease some groups of people…But if you want me to be blunt, the state and union must forget the politics of it and apply their mind to see how to stop it. I didn’t want to say it in court or the order, but that’s the bottom line”.
The court also said that all stakeholders will have to implement the resolutions adopted by the Committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary.
“All data has been developed over a period of time, the problem is known, theory is done. Practise, again it is not done. People are not concerned with how you do it. And the court’s job is not to get into nitty gritty, Court’s job is to make you do your job which is to stop this pollution, How you stop this is your business…Every stakeholder is before this committee. And the resolutions passed there, everyone must implement it. If you don’t implement it, our job is to take you to task," the bench said.
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