Coming down heavily on the Punjab and Haryana governments for their failure to implement an action plan to curb stubble burning, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court hearing petitions regarding air pollution in Delhi, on Wednesday gave the authorities seven days to formulate a plan to buy crop from cultivators.
The apex court bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta criticised the Punjab chief secretary for "passing the buck" to the Centre and said it was a "question of life and death for crores in Delhi-NCR". The bench also said authorities have to be held responsible for their failure to curb stubble burning. Justice Mishra said, "In the coming seven days, you take all steps to procure the stubble. Mobilise the entire machinery, spend as much money as required but purchase the stubble. Precious time is being lost as regards preparing the field for the next crop."
Justice Mishra slams Centre
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta earlier told the court machines to convert stubble into in-situ manure were provided by the Centre to Haryana at a subsidised rate. Justice Mishra wondered why machines weren't provided earlier.
When Attorney General KK Venugopal, arguing for the Centre, claimed farmers will be adversely affected if stubble burning is banned, Justice Mishra slammed the Centre and state governments for the lack of an effective solution to the "annual pollution menace".
Justice Mishra: Why just stubble burning be allowed?
Venugopal: Farmers cannot be asked to compromise on their livelihood. If stubble burning is banned, farmers will eb affected.
— Bar & Bench (@barandbench) November 6, 2019
Mishra said, "Why is the government not giving any other solution? Stubble burning is bad. The attorney in a democratic country cannot give a suggestion like this. Why can't the Centre or State come up with a solution?" Justice Mishra, questioning the official said, "Why are you the chief secretary if you can't protect life? Let the Central Government rule the country if you say everything has to be done by them. You shouldn't be in the chair."
Bench takes chief secretaries to task
The bench also pulled up the Punjab chief secretary and said it was "time to punish officials at the top". Justice Mishra slammed the bureaucrat's response that 18,000 machines were distributed, saying, "Why did you wait till September? You started late and that is why all machines could not be distributed."
"Again you are passing the buck. Why are you chief secretary if you cannot do anything?" the bench asked the official. "We will suspend you from here only, you won't be able to work even for a single day. You are also a state government, don't depend on the Centre for everything. It is not for the courts to run the government. Why have a state administration if you don't want to do anything? Why can't collection or purchase of stubble be done at panchayat-level?"
To the statement from the Punjab chief secretary that there were "reactions from some elements" against the government's action plan on curbing stubble burning, Justice Mishra said, "You cannot penalise farmers without providing them amenities. There will be a law and order problem. You are not providing them basic facilities and then you want to punish the farmers. You cannot sit in your ivory tower and try to rule like this," he added.
Responding to the apex court's criticism over the lack of management of stubble in Punjab, the state chief secretary provided a plan of the funds required to incentivise farmers against stubble burning.
'Can you permit people to die?'
The bench also questioned the chief secretary of Haryana over stubble burning. The official told the bench that farmers were not using the machines given to convert stubble because the procedure cost Rs 2,000."The sensitisation process is occurring through gram sabha meets," the bench was told. However, Justice Mishra was not satisfied with this answer. "Sensitising is happening now? You are worse than Punjab. They started the process in January, but you are doing it now. Now time to make them aware has gone. You have to take positive steps to purchase this stubble."
"Can you permit people to die like this due to pollution? Can you permit the country to go back by 100 years?" the bench queried. "We have to make government responsible for this," the bench said and asked, "Why can't government machinery stop stubble burning?"
The top court said that if the authorities aren't concerned with the public, they have no right to be in power. "You (states) have forgotten the concept of welfare government. They are not bothered about poor people, this is very unfortunate," said the bench stated. It also questioned as to why the state governments cannot collect and purchase stubble from farmers. "We expect more from democratic government of the country to deal with issue of stubble burning and curb pollution," the bench added.
With inputs from PTI
Updated Date: Nov 06, 2019 19:22:35 IST