Stubble burning: Can a portion of MSP be withheld?

Satya Prakash
Tribune News Service
New Delhi, October 6

The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to examine a suggestion that full Minimum Support Price (MSP) should be released to farmers only after a verification that they didn’t burn stubble.

However, a Bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde sought to know, “Who is going to supervise and verify if a farmer has indulged in stubble burning?”

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said, “Tinkering with the MSP may not be in the interest of farmers.”

The Bench posted the matter for further hearing to October 16 after Mehta said the Centre would file a reply on the issue.”

Advocate Charanpal Singh Bagri, representing farmers, objected to the suggestion of withholding MSP for stubble burning. He pointed out that on November 5, 2019, the top court had ordered that compensation should be granted to those small and marginal farmers who refrain from burning farm residue.

The court was dealing with a fresh plea suggesting that a portion of MSP should be withheld to verify if the farmer indulged in stubble burning or not.

During the hearing, CJI Bobde asked, “Will the smoke from stubble burning kill coronavirus?

“Corona pandemic will get aggravated because of pollution from stubble burning,” senior advocate Vikas Singh responded.

The top court is seized of a PIL on air pollution in NCR. It has been asking states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi and the Centre to take measures to ensure farmers don’t indulge in stubble burning that converts the entire Delhi-NCR into a virtual gas chamber during October-November.

Amicus Curiae Aparajita Singh told the Bench that states have failed to act despite having given assurances to the court to take steps to control stubble burning.

Senior advocate Shyam Divan suggested replication of measures adopted to control forest fires to check stubble burning.

“For forest fire, there is already a system by which satellite imageries are captured and messages sent to forest officials for remedial measures. Why can’t such measures be adopted with regard to stubble burning?” Divan wondered.

Divan said the suggestions are based on the recommendations of an expert committee.

Despite a ban on stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana, farmers continue to do so because of lack of financial incentives to switch over to environment-friendly farm waste management practices.

Last year, Punjab produced around 20 million tonnes paddy residue of which farmers burnt 9.8 million tonnes of it while the figures in Haryana stood at 7 million tonnes and 1.23 million tonnes respectively.

State governments were now providing 50 to 80 per cent subsidy to farmers and cooperative societies to buy modern farm equipment for in-situ management of paddy straw. They’re also running awareness campaigns against stubble burning.

According to the Central Pollution Control Board, stubble burning was an important factor behind air pollution in Delhi-NCR last year, contributing up to 44 per cent of the air pollution in November.

Punjab Government had earlier told the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) that it has been utilising crop residue through biomass-based power plants and various bio-CNG projects are under process. It has proposed to set up a 25-megawatt solar-biomass project.

Both Punjab and Haryana have set up thousands of custom hiring centres (CHCs) to give farm machinery on rental basis to farmers who cannot afford to buy high-end equipment for crop residue management.

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