By Ritvik Chouhan & Avira Shrivastava[*]
According to reports in 2019, Haryana farmers burnt nearly a fifth of the paddy stubble while Punjab farmers burnt nearly half of what they both individually produced. The stubble burning cases stand close to 63,000 in Punjab. Air pollution evident in the NCR Region has become an inevitable situation with only slight variations repeated every year which is aggravated by farmer’s activities of stubble burning in the states of Punjab and Haryana.
Stubble burning is an intentional setting of fire to the straw stubble that remains after grains, such as paddy, wheat, etc. after they have been harvested. Each year India’s rice farmers burn the stubble of the harvested crop, contributing to an annual haze that damages the health of those in and around the capital.
This stubble burning has become an annual recurring news leading to one-off judicial intervention. With this, it is quite difficult for the government to explore cheaper ways and means to decipher its causes and hold the polluters accountable.
However, the real problem arose with the judiciary and the government for the imposition of restrictions on the activities of stubble burning by the farmers, which did not cause a standoff between the right to clean environment and the right to livelihood. This standoff is prominent as involving the drift of the court from the ideals of rule of law and constitutional morality towards the practice of bowing to the whims of popular morality.
The paper tries to throw some light towards the question of the importance of balance between these notions and recommends ways of balancing these notions.
Itinerary of the Legal Treatment towards Stubble Burning
The right to a clean and healthy environment is a branch of the fundamental right to life and is inherent in the Indian Judiciary. With this perspective, the judiciary is taking effective steps to change the way of stubble burning. This burning in northern states is not new but it became more evident after the 2009 rule of delaying rice cooking.
The recognition of the issue of stubble burning by the judiciary in Delhi happened as late as September 22, 2017. With the emerging cases, the Delhi High Court ordered strict enforcement of a ban on stubble burning including the prosecution of violators under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 or any other laws applicable within its jurisdiction. Moreover, its enforcement will be monitored through satellite images but it was of no avail.
This problem was also recognized by the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which ordered the states to interpret the existing Minimum Support Price (MSP) Scheme to ‘wholly or partly deny the benefits of MSP to those who continue to burn the crop residue’ which was not given due attention by the concerned government functionaries.
Finally, the Supreme Court in the case of MC Mehtha v. Union of India gave the following directions to the Central Government, Punjab, Haryana & Uttar Pradesh State Governments to follow these steps:
- To prepare a comprehensive plan to discourage stubble burning using incentives or disincentives like in situ farming.
- To prepare a Crop Residual Management Plan and a scheme for making available equipment such as Combine Harvesters, Paddy Straw Chopper, Mulcher, Rotary Slasher, Zero till Seeds especially dedicated to small and marginal farmers, either free of charge or on a nominal rental basis.
Considering, Delhi government started the process of preparing the liquid Pusa Decomposer solution that has been developed by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Pusa for rapid decomposing of farm residue, so that farmers do not have to burn the stubble.
Moreover, the Supreme Court-appointed Justice Lokur committee to monitor the measures implemented by the governments of Punjab, Haryana, UP and Delhi to prevent farmers from resorting to stubble burning. However, on October 26, the top court decided to put its order on hold after the Solicitor General suggested coming up with a law to tackle the air pollution problem. Despite a ban on stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana, farmers continue to do so because of a lack of financial incentives to switch over to environment-friendly farm waste management practices.
Nature of the Laws Implemented
The laws implemented by the government in regards to stubble burning, face the issue of a standoff between the livelihood of farmers and a clean environment. They follow a correlative and contrasting nature.
Fundamental Rights and duties are correlative with each other in such a way that one without another can never be formulated. A right is always against those whom the correlative duty is inflicted.
According to Justice Arun Mishra, stubble burning is not only posing problems to the people of NCR regions but also the regions of perpetrators ie farmers. The laws for curbing stubble burning ensure that the right to livelihood is correlative with the right to clean environment in the sense, that the severe pollution levels caused by not restricting stubble burning to harm the farmers’ health.
Further, if the farmers are not available to work due to health issues it will eventually affect the livelihood of the farmers. According to Jagmohan Singh, “Farmers burn stubble out of desperation. We know it causes pollution. The first victim is the farmer, who also suffers from respiratory diseases because he is the one who lights the fire. But what choice do we have?”
With this, the duties placed on the government and judiciary are not only to ‘guard’ the atmosphere against contamination but also to have a ‘better and cleaner’ environment. However, the problem of Development before conservation hits the core of these elements where these activities are linking to the fact of livelihood. Therefore, it is every citizen’s responsibility to conserve the world in the same manner as nature has given it to us all.
Conclusively, curbing stubble burning for a positive reach to a clean environment positively affects the long-term livelihood of the farmers.
The contrasting nature plays an eminent role too in the implementation of laws and norms regarding stubble burning. Much judicial decision or pronouncements like the recent MC Mehtha v. Union of Indiahas been implemented with the idea of considering the right to clean environment is more important than the livelihood of the farmers.
Nevertheless, these laws have proven to be ineffective as the government only encourages these extra stubbles by pushing public procurement agencies to procure huge quantities, beyond projected requirements. However, small farmers not having proper storage facilities lead them to keep food-grains in open and dilapidated godowns that soon turn unfit for consumption. This leads the quantity of stubble to increase and leads the farmers to burn it in open areas.
Furthermore, many successive central governments have failed in creating efficient technologies and eco-systems for diversifying agriculture with greater attention on minor millets, oilseeds, pulses, etc. Moreover, it was emphasized in the case of Smt. Ganga Lalwani v. Union of India that the target of delivery of machinery/equipment was not received in the State of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
Though the authors believe that because of such a lack of effective methods by the government, the laws implemented by the government giving supremacy to the environment over livelihood are still not protecting the environment. This establishes the importance of reforms that need to be implemented by the government to balance this contrasting and correlative nature between the right to a clean environment and livelihood.
Suggestive Reforms to Balance the Standoff
The Judiciary in India is very cautious about the balance between national progress and the fundamental rights of the people with the guiding principles of sustainable development and ecological balance even in the light of reforms regarding stubble burning which needs to be implemented.
It must also be noted that sustainable development even though it has cleared the difference between development and environment and made them complimentary but the third viewpoint (livelihood) remains to be tended to. The government is taking numerous steps for natural mindfulness but its usage is getting harder and harder to be accomplished.
Thus, to inculcate the relation between development, livelihood and environment, Sustainable livelihood emerges as an integration of the solutions for development and environmental studies. This notion enhances the laws made by the government to balance the equation of livelihood and the environment in a creative stance and using different approaches to focus on reducing the drastic effects on vulnerable populations.
In respect of these solutions, the Government of Punjab could work with farmers persuading them to resort to alternative cultivation and straw-disposal techniques contemporary to the ‘Pusa’ decomposer, to reduce paddy straw too much.
Even if the government is pushing the farmers to produce much, they could help them to move or diversify from using paddy soil to basmati as fodder providing them with microbial solutions that dissolve the stubble and convert it into nutrients for the soil.
In addition, the NCT of Delhi and Governments of Punjab, Haryana and UP, have to provide proper cheap alternatives to the farmers to restrict their stubble burning activities, however, ignorance will be saddled with fines. Thus, restricting the idea of environmental compensation but encouraging the idea of technological advancements in the form of a Turbo Happy Seeder (THS) machine which can pull the stubble out and also sow seeds in the cleared area which can be used as mulch for the field.
The authors suggest that a tribunal should be formed by the Ministry of Agriculture and farmer’s welfare, in taking care of the higher costs of these machines which are incurred by the farmers by compensating them in the form of increased cost subsidies. Moreover, the NGT rather than withdrawing the MSP support from the farmers must dwell upon ideas to encourage the government to increase the compensation given to the farmers to resort to advanced techniques.
In the present time, these sustainable solutions would easily help in tackling the longstanding standoff, between the right to a clean environment and livelihood of the farmers in respect of stubble burning reforms.
The reforms with respect to stubble burning must be implemented taking care of the everlasting debate between the right to livelihood and the right to clean environment. This recurring pattern must be stopped in line with the concept of sustainable livelihood.
While all of the aforementioned standoffs can be resolved by the concept of sustainable livelihood, which maintains an effective balance between livelihood and development, development and environmentand deductively, livelihood and environment.
The judiciary and the government-in-action need to limit their scope of environmental activism to that level such that no discriminatory laws are imposed which not only harm the livelihood but also do not ensure the protection of the environment.
Thus, solutions must be made to reduce the standoff between the environment and livelihood, so that the rights of an individual and the environment are completely protected, making the world a sustainably better place.
[*] Students, BA. LL.B., Second year, Nirma University, Ahmedabad.