The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) on October 30, 2020 demanded the withdrawal of the Centre-introduced Ordinance for the Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas.
They called the new legislature “another undemocratic and anti-farmer ordinance,” through which the Union government would override states and claim the power to punish farmers. The ordinance is a means for the central government to absolve itself of responsibility because the Commission cannot compel it to provide resources to implement solutions, said farmer leaders.
The policy establishes an 18-member-Commission that comprises a Centre-appointed Chairperson and representatives from Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh whose decisions regarding air-pollution and its quality management will supersede all state governments as well as Central and State Pollution Control Boards. However, the farmers’ organisation pointed out that the Commission does not include a farmer representative despite the presence of an industry personnel.
The overarching body would have the power to prohibit/regulate any process or operation and halt the supply of electricity, water or any other service. In addition, the Commission can also charge a fine of upto Rs. 1 crore or order imprisonment upto five years for any non-compliance.
These latest powers along with the recognition of stubble burning as a major pollutant has raised concern among the AIKSCC leaders.
According to a AIKSCC Punjab Union leader, “The Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act, 2009 prohibits farmers from transplanting paddy before June 10th. The farmers have been demanding an incentive of Rs.200 per quintal of straw to make alternative disposal financially viable but the government has not provided such resources. The Court ordered Rs.100 per quintal but the government did not provide even those funds. Instead, it has established this Commission which has powers to put farmers in jail!”
AIKSCC General Secretary Hannan Mollah said that farmers had asked for the provision of a mechanism to crush the stubble so as to avoid the burning process. An alternative to stubble burning helps preserve soil fertility and prevents air pollution in their own villages. However, the government paid them no heed.
Over the past couple of years, thousands of cases were booked against farmers for stubble-burning, resulting in a lot of harassment. Punjab and Haryana farmers claim that government policies and laws pushed them into a cycle of paddy and wheat with barely three weeks in between, leaving farmers with little practical choice except burning the stubble.
“Despite Court directions to provide alternatives to farmers to manage the paddy straw, the Centre has not provided the necessary financial support to make it happen. Now, when the Court sought to appoint a one-member Committee consisting of Justice Madan Lokur to look into the implementation, the Centre has brought in this hasty ordinance to prevent the operationalisation of the one-member Committee. The Centre did not want a Supreme Court-appointed committee which would have made the Centre answerable too,” they said.
On October 16, the Supreme Court had ordered a one-man committee of retired Justice Madan B. Lokur to monitor the issue of stubble burning and consequent air pollution. Governments of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi as well as the Environment Protection (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) were asked to assist the committee.
However, this order was again stayed on October 26 at the central government’s behest. They assured that a law would be introduced to tackle the stubble burning and pollution issue – the new ordinance.
Regarding air pollution, the AIKSCC acknowledged the severity of the issue but claimed that there was a disproportionate focus on farming activities like stubble burning.
“There are other, larger sources of pollution that need to be tackled instead of targeting the farmers. Studies by the Central Pollution Control Board have shown that industries including power plants are the largest source of air pollutants, followed by vehicles, even during the winter months,” they said.
The organisation also listed the brick kilns and burning of municipal solid waste as major contributors that government agencies need to address first. According to the Air Quality Index Bulletin of the Central Pollution Control Board, as of 4 PM of October 30, Delhi’s air quality stood at 374 index values with Very poor air quality that could lead to respiratory illnesses.
The entire Ordinance may be read here:
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