While the decision of the Supreme Court to appoint a retired judge as a one-man committee to monitor the measures taken to prevent the burning of crop stubble in the states of Punjab, Haryana and UP needs to be welcomed, there will be reservations over its effectiveness. The court’s decision appears to have been prompted by the failure of the state governments to check incidents of farm fires, but clarity will be needed on aspects like the powers delegated to it, the time frame within which it has to submit its report and whether the recommendations would be binding. There have been many instances in the past when reports of judicial panels have been allowed to gather dust. The government, on its part, has said it is sceptical about the panel as the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority is already tasked to look into the problem, but has failed to explain why repeated prodding has not produced results.
The Supreme Court, on the other hand, has clarified that the appointment of the committee is not an indictment of any agency and that its only concern is that people in Delhi-NCR should be able to breathe clean and fresh air. The panel is expected to undertake physical surveillance of the fields where stubble burning takes place, suggest methods to prevent it and submit fortnightly reports to the court which implies that it will have to depend on the cooperation of the states — ruled by different political parties — which themselves have been unable to check the problem.
Justice Madan B Lokur (retd), with his experience of having headed the Green Bench, will need to take into confidence all stakeholders like farmers and government agencies. With the stir over agriculture reforms persisting, it has been difficult to dissuade the farmers from burning stubble. Incentives and punitive measures have not been much successful and creating awareness will be important, for which the committee will be assisted by NCC cadets, NSS volunteers and Scouts & Guides. Looking for individual success stories may help, for success breeds popularity. The task is cut out for the committee.