The Centre will bring in a law, via ordinance, to address air pollution as well as check stubble burning in Delhi as well as the surrounding National Capital Region, the Supreme Court was informed on Monday.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the Court that a draft legislation would be ready this week following which the Court suspended its earlier decision to have a one-man committee led by former Justice Madan Lokur to monitor stubble burning, exacerbating the region’s noxious air.
Also read: Punjab sees sharp rise in stubble burning
“The new law is for tackling air pollution in NCR and adjoining areas. It’s an ordinance,” Secretary in the Ministry of Environment R.P. Gupta told The Hindu .
However, there appeared to be no consultation so far with the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) regarding the proposed legislation. With an increase in stubble burning — the burning of rice straw by farmers to clear their fields for winter sowing in Punjab and Haryana — the MoA has in recent years been tasked with funding the use of subsidised combine harvesters and other machinery to dissuade farmers from burning.
“The new ordinance is coming from the Environment Ministry and so far no consultations have been held with Agriculture Ministry officials,” said a person in the Minstry aware of inter-ministerial coordination activities to check stubble burning.
The Delhi NCR already has a Graded Response Action Plan, which is overseen by the Environment Pollution Authority, that has specified a number of measures that governments must take — from banning diesel gensets to restricting vehicle movement — depending on the degree of pollution.
To check stubble burning this kharif (summer) season, the Punjab government has appointed 8,000 nodal officers in villages that grow paddy. Over 23,000 crop residue management machines are being given to farmers for on-site management of straw.
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh last week appealed to farmers not to burn crop residue because the practice could aggravate the conditions leading to the spread of COVID-19, besides causing pollution. He said the State was taking measures to sensitise the farmers to the problem and it had been pressing the Centre to give ₹100 per quintal to farmers for managing the paddy straw without burning it.
However, Executive Director, Centre for Science and Environment Anumita Roychowdhury said new legislation was not the need of the hour.
“We don't yet know what this proposed law will be about. There are strong laws in place for checking pollution but inadequate infrastructure at the level of State and municipal bodies to implement them. The existing laws could be sharpened no doubt. But what we need now is better enforcement,” she told The Hindu .
Also read: Green alternative to stubble burning
With the monsoon withdrawing and winter-conditions setting in, air quality in the Delhi-NCR has been deteriorating since last week and dipped to 'poor and very poor' on the air quality index.
According to forecasting system, SAFAR, maintained by the Ministry of Earth Sciences, the contribution of stubble burning to the worsening air quality was 16% on Monday relative to other sources such as road dust, vehicular emissions and industrial activities. Pollutants from straw burning are brought in by the wind. Instances of burning, or fire counts, as they are called and tracked via satellite, have increased in the last few weeks and increased to nearly 1,200 as of Monday.
Central Pollution Control Board officials have said adverse meteorological conditions — a drop in wind speed and lowering of the mixing height (at which pollutants disperse), led to pollutants remaining trapped in the air.