Continuing a Kisan Sansad in tandem with the monsoon session of the Parliament, farmers on August 3, 2021 rejected the Commission on Air Quality Management in NCR and Adjoining Areas Bill 2021.
The farmers’ body demanded that the Parliament likewise dispose of the Bill that was introduced once again before the MPs on Tuesday. Farmers expressed shock at this reintroduction despite prior commitment by the government in December 2020 to do away with the document.
The farmers body Samyukta Kisan Morcha’s (SKM) main contention with the Bill is misleading in the manner in which it targets stubble burning as a major cause of pollution in Delhi NCR. Farmers claim the Bill blames neighbouring farmers for the city’s worsening air quality so as to provide an escape for industries and the central government from fulfilling their responsibilities.
“Various government policies and laws, and government-promoted crops and technologies have pushed Punjab and Haryana farmers into this cycle of paddy and wheat with barely three weeks in between, leaving farmers with little practical choice except burning the stubble,” said the Farmers Parliament in a press release.
Farmer leaders demanded that rather than such laws, the government provide a legal guarantee to Minimum Support Price (MSP) and make financial arrangements to incentivise farmers to take up sustainable practices.
Instead of the Centre, farmers demanded that state governments address the stubble burning issue, “This should include consultative and participatory processes with farmers on all aspects including scientific studies.”
During the three sessions of Kisan Sansad, farmers argued that the main causes of air pollution in Delhi are construction industries and the decreasing green cover. As for stubble burning, leaders said that the practice has a worse effect on farmers and their families, the soil and air quality than the neighbouring city. Despite this, the Bill allows jailing or levying of heavy penalties on farmers for stubble burning. This also comes at a time when there was no economically viable alternative to the practice.
Farmers on their part, recommended government intervention in employing mulching and composting practices through low-cost appropriate machinery.
“There are Supreme Court directions to provide alternatives to farmers to manage the paddy stubble but the Union Government has not provided the necessary financial support to make it happen. Farmers have been demanding an incentive of Rs. 200 per quintal of stubble to make alternative disposal financially viable but the government has not provided even this,” said the SKM.
Similarly, they claimed the Centre also failed to provide Rs.100 per quintal of stubble as per court orders.
In such a backdrop, leaders like Kawalpreet Singh Pannu worried about the Bill’s overriding powers over state officials. Further, while the commission mentioned in the concerned Bill is empowered to direct state government actions to the Centre, it cannot compel the latter to provide resources to implement solutions.
The Commission has wide-ranging powers to issue orders to any person, officer or authority, who will then be bound to comply with the orders, including prohibition or regulation of any process or operation, and stoppage of electricity, water or any other service. In addition, any non-compliance will be punishable with a term up to 5 years and a fine extending up to Rs.1 crore with an exception now put in for farmers. However, the Bill does not define the title of ‘farmer.’
Further, economists Dr Devinder Sharma, Dr Sucha Singh Gill, Dr R S Ghuman and others will attend the Kisan Sansad discussions on August 4 and 5.