Reality Check: Centre Promulgated Ordinance To Check Air Quality Deterioration In NCR; Farmer Unions Specifically Demanded That They Be Kept Out Of Penal Provisions

by Swarajya Staff - Feb 15, 2021 08:48 PM +05:30 IST
 Reality Check: Centre Promulgated Ordinance To Check Air Quality Deterioration In NCR; Farmer Unions Specifically Demanded That They Be Kept Out Of Penal ProvisionsRepresentative Image 
Snapshot
  • How does it make you an environmentalist when you want immunity from the penalty for stubble-burning that chokes the national capital every year?

Amendments to be made and notified in the Commission for the Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance, 2020 to exclude farmers from its penal provisions. (Emphasis added).

This was one of the four points in an agenda sent by the farmer unions to the Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers' Welfare, Vivek Aggarwal on 26 December.

Up till then, five rounds of talks had been held between the government and the unions but none of them resulted in a breakthrough.

On 26 December, the unions had accepted the Centre’s offer to resume talks and had sent the letter mentioned above which outlined their agenda.

The letter specifically mentioned their demand that farmers be excluded from the penal provisions of an ordinance that was brought in to check the deteriorating air quality of the National Capital Region.

What is the Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance, 2020?

As per this PRS summary, the ‘Ordinance provides for constitution of a Commission for better co-ordination, research, identification, and resolution of problems related to air quality in the national capital region (NCR) and adjoining areas’.

It is important to note here that the ‘adjoining areas’ in the ordinance refers to ‘areas in the states of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh where any source of pollution may cause adverse impact on air quality in the NCR’.

The text of the ordinance makes it plain that the Commission was needed since a permanent statutory body was required to tackle the problem of air pollution in New Delhi and adjoining areas. Temporary solutions and commissions were clearly not enough.

As the PRS summary also explains, the ‘Commission will be the sole authority with jurisdiction over matters defined in the Ordinance (such as air quality management).  In case of any conflict, the orders or directions of the Commission will prevail over the orders of the state governments (of Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh), the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), state PCBs, and state-level statutory bodies’.

Readers will remember that every year, around October, air quality deteriorates to drastic levels in New Delhi and surrounding areas. The greatest contributor to this air pollution is the stubble-burning that takes place in the fields of Haryana, Rajasthan, western Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.

In the recent years, all states, except for Punjab, have managed to control and regulate stubble-burning in their territories.

The Ordinance specifically mentions monitoring the steps taken by States to prevent stubble-burning, among other activities, as one of the reasons for the constitution of the Commission.

By seeking to be keep farmers outside the penal provisions of the ordinance, the unions appear to be sending the message that they would want to continue with the stubble-burning, and would also like legal immunity for the same.

On part of the Centre, the government agreed to remove stubble burning fine in a bid to continue with the negotiations.

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