By imposing fines that were as high as Rs 2000 for not wearing masks, the Government of the NCT of Delhi demonstrated that when words do not work, restrictions become necessary. One cannot help but wonder where are these restrictions when it comes to protecting the air in and around Delhi.
The Central Government promulgated new farm laws/ ordinances in India during 2020 to protect the interests of farmers and also, to save the environment. Over the last few months Indian farmers have put up a strong resistance to the farm laws introduced by the Central Government in more ways than one. Since the highlight of their protest is their non-negotiable demand to repeal the three farm laws and a legal guarantee of MSP, some other demands of the farmers have gone unnoticed by the national media and especially the people of Delhi.
A crucial part of their demand, apart from rolling back the three farm laws has been dispensing with the fine imposed on stubble burning. It is surprising that such a discussion on dispensing with the fine on stubble burning is turning negotiable for the Government and the farmers at the cost of the health of millions of people in northern India who choke whenever the farm fires are lit. The air pollution in Delhi has been the focus of the entire world for the last one decade with Delhi topping the list of the most polluted cities around the world. Needless to say, little has been done to address the issue effectively. On the contrary, conflicting stands have been taken by governments for the ‘state’ of Delhi.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for example, openly supports the agitation against the farm laws, while he had previously been very critical of the farmers in Punjab and Haryana for stubble burning. All his Press campaigns on the issue of air pollution in Delhi during 2019 had centred squarely on stubble burning, which he had blamed for the foul air in Delhi. Sadly, not even once did the Delhi Government suggested the stakeholders during the farmers’ crisis that stubble burning needs to be regulated and discouraged. In fact, during the ongoing farm agitation, stubble burning increased many folds and the capital city choked yet again, in the absence of any state protection whatsoever.
The Delhi Government has time and again identified stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana as the main contributor to air pollution in Delhi. The Central Government recently passed the Commission for Air Quality Management for NCR Ordinance, 2020 to tackle this issue. Through this ordinance, stubble burning was to be penalised which was hopefully an effective step towards curbing the menace. However, the farm protests may even compel the Central Government to concede to the demand to exclude the penalty clause for stubble burning from the laws. In this sticky situation of blame-game, concessions and vested interests, the Delhi’s air emergency is once again pushed to the backburner.
Personally, my fight for clean air in Delhi is on since 2015 before the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in the matter titled as ‘Sudhir Mishra vs Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Ors.’ in W.P. (C) 2115/2015 tagged with a suo-moto matter of the High Court. Unfortunately, I suffer serious demotivation when I see professed global climate change crusader activists like Greta Thunberg supporting farm laws and not the right of the children of Delhi to breath in clean air. At the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, I had again moved to the High Court of Delhi to somehow control air pollution in Delhi, which was being adversely affected by stubble burning. However, the court was advised by the Central Government that it would soon bring a law to penalise stubble burning. And now here we are, back to square one, with the likelihood of the law or ordinance that could have penalised farmers for stubble burning being sacrificed, while climate change activists protest in favour of the farmers and their historical ways. In fact, we also know the deplorable condition of ground water and that it›s brazen extraction for water intensive farming in Punjab and Haryana is detrimental to our hopeful climate goals.
In October, 2020, the Supreme Court of India had indicated that it would study the stubble burning ordinance and pass orders, if necessary. However, in spite of the absence of any opinion of the Supreme Court on the said ordinance, the Government may concede to the demand of farmers and agree to remove the provision for imposing a fine on stubble burning and hence, wreak havoc with the health of millions of people. Moreover, Nobel Prize winners and other luminaries in the public eye internationally have come out in support of the farmers, turning a blind eye simultaneously to the consequences of stubble burning affecting the air pollution and smog in the national capital of Delhi. While climate change activists share toolkits and enhance international camaraderie around the laws, they fail to raise a climate change question supporting clean air for Delhi.
Arguments have also been made by many distinguished environmentalists that the farmers’ protests for repealing the three farm laws are a smokescreen to arm-twist the Government into allowing the other demands made by the farmers, and here we see that the environmental concerns have gone for a toss in this tug-of-war between the farmers and the Government. To top it, the opposition is fighting tooth and nail to maybe gain political advantage, which is a point of concern for actual climate change warriors. The massive vote bank in areas of Punjab and Haryana have probably motivated political parties to single-handedly parrot the farmers at the cost of middle-class taxpayers of the National Capital of Delhi, who inhale smoke-filled foul air.
In the entire maze of confusing discussions over the new farm laws controversy, somewhere the taxpaying middleclass of the capital city of Delhi have been the most neglected. Not only are the state borders closed and movements of Delhi residents restricted, but their lungs too are choking on account of the air quality in Delhi. The entire city is in a hostage situation and we are going to see sustained stubble burning in future as well, as farmers continue to be instigated to persist with their stir. What is even more uninspiring is that while Delhi bears the brunt of this farm law crisis, there is no encouraging talk or message for Delhi citizens to build their faith in improved air quality in Delhi. Instead, people governing them have abandoned their responsibility and are looking the other way for a considerable period of time now. Global Climate Change Activists like Greta Thunberg’s support towards the farmers agitation against the farm laws, ostensibly for the climate has raised many eyebrows. If one considers the ground issues concerning environment, then Thunberg may not be an inspiration to many young children, especially of Delhi.
While it is desirable that the farmers concerns are resolved soon, but does it have to be at the cost of health of so many owing to the Air Emergency?
The author is Founder and Managing Partner, Trust Legal, Door Tenant at No5 Barristers’ Chambers, United Kingdom and Climate Change Lawyer.
In October 2020, the Supreme Court had indicated that it would study the stubble burning Ordinance and pass orders, if necessary. However, in spite of the absence of any opinion of the Supreme Court on the said Ordinance, the government may concede to the demand of farmers and agree to remove the provision for imposing a fine on stubble burning and hence, wreak havoc with the health of millions of people. Moreover, Nobel Prize winners and other luminaries in the public eye internationally have come out in support of the farmers, turning a blind eye simultaneously to the consequences of stubble burning affecting the air pollution and smog in the national capital of Delhi.
Global climate change activists like Greta Thunberg’s support towards the farmers’ agitation against the new farm laws, ostensibly for the climate, has raised many eyebrows. If one considers the ground issues concerning environment, then Thunberg may not be an inspiration to many young children, especially of Delhi.