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Scrutinizing Stubble burning- What Can be a feasible course of action?


As the winter season approaches, places in Delhi and NCR( National Capital Territory) are seen choking on smog. This happens due to the pollutant precipitate elements in the atmosphere. Apart from the industrial and vehicular emissions, stubble burning is also a major cause of air pollution in Delhi-NCR. So, What is Stubble Burning? It is a practice prevalent in North India. Most of the farmers of Punjab, Haryana and western UP(Uttar Pradesh) use combine harvesting machines for cutting grains from the field and this process leaves the stem of plant standing on the ground. To make the field ready for the next sowing season in a swift manner, farmers burn the crop residue instead of cutting it with a handheld sickle. This process suspends a mammoth amount of particulate matter in the air, this matter is carried to the lower atmosphere of Delhi-NCR by the winds which resultantly causes smog and low visibility. Currently, the whole world is suffering from the wrath of the Novel Coronavirus a.k.a COVID-19, this virus primarily affects the respiratory system of the human body. If the problem of stubble burning is not regulated now, this will result in making the situation worse for the Covid warriors. Through this blog, the author aims to shed some light on the environmental impact of stubble burning and enunciate the legal principle vis-a-vis stubble burning. Conclusively, the author will try to suggest a possible way forward.

Stubble burning: A jolt to environmental balance

A major chunk of the farmer population believes in a misconception that stubble burning increases the fertility of the soil but in reality, stubble burning not only pollutes the air but also it substantially reduces the fertility of soil as the essential nutrients and minerals present in the soil are destroyed when the temperature of the soil rises. The practise of stubble burning became popular since the last decade, earlier farmers used to fill their lands with water believing that the crop residue will get decomposed in the soil making it a more fertile natural manure. Water conservation laws enacted by the Punjab and Haryana government put an end to this practice.

The crop residue when burned creates an imbalance in the chemical composition of the atmosphere. After the field is burned, the only thing which remains is the carbon precipitate. This precipitate releases fatal gases like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulphur oxide, etc. These gases form the brown clouds which are made up of smoke and ash, these clouds cause the greenhouse effect which is a major cause behind the melting of Himalayan snow. The smog caused by stubble burning deteriorates the air quality of Delhi and NCR which increases the threat of some major diseases like Asthama, Lung Cancer, Throat Cancer, etc.

Legal Perspective towards Stubble Burning

The act of stubble burning transgresses various laws of Indian Territory. Section 18(1)(b) of the Air( Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 mandates the states of NCR region to control the air pollution in their territory. Also, the state of Punjab under section 19(5) of the Air Act, 1981 has issued directions which forbid the practice of stubble burning in the state and violation of these directions would attract penalty under section 39 of the Air Act, 1981. Haryana government has also issued numerous orders to refrain people from indulging in the practice of stubble burning. NGT( National Green Tribunal) in case of Vikrant Kumar Tongad v. Environmental Pollution authority and others. has issued guidelines to punish the polluters.

A farmer, when indulges in the practice of stubble burning violates his duty under article 51-a of the Indian constitution which talks about protecting the environment and it was also laid in the case of Vijendra Gaur v. state of Haryana and Union of India v. Naveen Jindal that citizens cannot escape their fundamental duty to protect the environment. Further, in the case of MC Mehta v. UOI, it was held that any act causing an environmental disturbance and ecological imbalance is a violation of article 21 of Indian Constitution which guarantees right to life and personal liberty. If any action is disturbing the ecological imbalance, then the court has all the rights to intervene and decide the liability of accused based on the polluter-pay principle.

The Course of action

The State is under the duty and obligation to protect and preserve the environment under Article 48-A of the Constitution of India. At the same time, the State also has to organise agriculture along the scientific lines as enshrined in Article 48 of the Constitution. Instead of playing the blame game, authorities should take some precautionary action to resolve the issues entailed with stubble burning. The Apex Court has recently observed that farmers cannot be made the sole culprit in this whole scenario. They are the ones who are left with no other choice due to the paucity of resources. Providing them with better technology, which is both cost-efficient and time-efficient is the responsibility of the government. The Union Government has placed on record that they are about to bring a law to tackle this issue very soon. So the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of such a law is to be seen in the future. It is a dictum that if one wants a clean shave, one must use a sharp razor, not the trimmers which leave the stubble behind. Similarly, the use of machines such as Happy Seeders, etc. can help to solve this issue. There are various alternate uses of the stubble such as using it as fodder, using it as bedding for animals, making biofuel, it can also serve as an alternative to the single-use plastic, and for cultivating mushrooms. Conclusively, the author wants to say that instead of making more draconian laws, all the stakeholders along with the lawmakers should come forward and tackle the issue by proposing constructive solutions to the problem.


Shaurya Shukla

About the Author:

Currently a student at CNLU, Patna. He is keen on researching, writing and debating. His areas of interest are Law and technology, Intellectual Protest Rights and Criminal law.

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