“Cat’s Out Of The Bag”: Supreme Court On Centre’s Stubble-Burning Data


Delhi Air Pollution: Farm fires only have 10% share in Delhi’s pollution, Centre told Supreme Court.

New Delhi:

Farm fires only have a 10 per cent share in Delhi’s severe pollution, the central government today told the Supreme Court in a hearing on the air quality crisis in India’s capital.

The contribution of stubble-burning – or burning of farm waste — to Delhi’s air pollution is 10 per cent, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the Supreme Court, stating that industry and road dust played a big role.

“Are you agreeing in principle that stubble burning is not the major cause,” Justice Surya Kant asked the Centre, also questioning whether the “hue and cry” was without scientific and legal basis.

When the Centre’s lawyer accepted it, the judge noted that there was “no point in the Delhi government affidavit” as they are “only blaming farmers”.

The Centre’s affidavit, in fact, cites a scientific study to say that only 4 per cent in PM 2.5 in Delhi is because of agricultural burning in winters and 7 per cent in summers. PM 2.5 describes suspended particles that are less than 2.5 micrometres.

“Now cat is out of the bag. Farmers’ stubble burning is contributing only 4%. It’s insignificant,” remarked Justice DY Chandrachud.

Delhi government was pulled up by the judges for “lame excuses” and “passing the buck” by the court, which said the capital’s air pollution was a “crisis”.

The Supreme Court said in its order that “the major culprit of pollution” is industry, transport and road dust and “some part” is stubble burning.

“While stubble burning is not the major cause, there is a lot of stubble burning happening in Punjab and Haryana. We request state governments to pursue farmers to stop the burning for a week,” Chief Justice NV Ramana said, reading out the order.

The court said the centre and states should consider work-from-home for their employees in and around Delhi and farmers should be persuaded to not burn farm waste. The court also directed the centre to call an emergency meeting of states and other authorities on Tuesday to decide on immediate steps.

Vikas Singh, the lawyer for the petitioners, later accused the Centre of trying to protect farmers with an eye on upcoming state elections.

“Surprisingly, the central government is also trying to protect the farmers. That is because they also don’t want to displease the farmers like the Punjab government. All this because it’s an election year,” Mr Singh said.

The Centre, he said, made a “wrong statement” that the contribution of stubble burning was less than 10% to pollution in Delhi.

“Their own emergency meeting yesterday said that the contribution is around 35 per cent. Stubble burning needs to be regulated immediately,” said Mr Singh.

Mr Singh appeared to refer to a meeting of the Commission for Air Quality Management, in which it was discussed that paddy stubble burning had to be checked urgently.

“Efforts need to be intensified to control instances of stubble burning to a minimum as currently the paddy stubble burning has been contributing about 35 to 40 per cent of the total pollution load in Delhi-NCR,” said the Centre’s affidavit.

Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government accused the Centre of “misleading the Supreme Court”.

AAP alleged that after the Centre’s own affidavit said stubble burning contributes 40 per cent of the total pollution, it took a U-turn and said the role of farm fires is only 4 per cent. The tweet was posted with the hashtag #ModiGovtLied.