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Take those to task who failed to control farm fires

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By Sidharth Mishra

 In the first week of November Delhi woke up to the smog at its thickest for the season. The newspapers said that Graded Response Action Plan (Grap) stage III guidelines have been made operational and that a large number of vehicles would be going off the road as long as the guidelines remain operational.

The Delhi government at its end ‘discharged its responsibility and obligation’ by declaring holidays in the schools. The MLAs of the ruling party did their quota of levelling charges saying that the Delhi police stopped them in their fight against pollution. Seriously?

On the day they were protesting their party leader and chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was away campaigning in Singrauli Madhya Pradesh. Worse, he was in the company of party leader and Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann. The poor state of air in Delhi, which is suffocating its residents, has largely been caused by stubble fire in the fields of Punjab.

On its part, the Punjab government has washed its hands of the blame that stubble burning in the state was cause for pollution in the national Capital and the adjoining areas. In a newspaper report last week, Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) chief is reported to have said, “The NGT has already been informed about the standard operation procedure adopted by the Punjab government and PPCB to tackle stubble burning especially in the hotspot districts. However, the board and agriculture department have geared up to control any sort of situation in case the number of cases increase in coming days as the figures continue to fluctuate till November 30, when we get the final number of total cases.”

PPCB response came when the National Green Tribunal (NGT) took cognisance of a news report and said, “As per the said report, the stubble burning is aggravating the air pollution and that till the publication of the newspaper report, the State had witnessed 656 farm fire incidents and the same were up by around 63% against the corresponding period for the previous year. The previous year’s figures up to that period are disclosed to be 415. Hence, the report says there is a rise of 241 cases.”

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath on a visit to national Capital opened a Pandora’s Box by saying, “On my way to Delhi, I landed at Ghaziabad, as soon as I stepped out of the aircraft my eyes started burning and I realised it was due to smog. When I checked NASA satellite images to see areas affected by stubble burning and industrial pollution, it was found that the whole of Punjab and northern parts of Haryana were indicated in 'red' (indicating stubble burning). When air from these states travelled, Delhi was covered in darkness (smog).”

To buttress UP CM’s claims, one could visit the medicines dispensing apps and find that the eye drops have suddenly run out of stock. The masks are out and the air purifiers in the homes, whoever can afford it, are running in full steam. In the midst of the near catastrophe, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who was to go hammer and tongs against the Punjab government till last year, has no qualms now in sharing dais with its chief minister.

The matter is listed for hearing next week and hopefully the tribunal takes the Punjab government to task for doing little for controlling pollution caused by farm fires. According to data maintained by the Central Pollution Control Board, air pollution levels in Delhi is the worst since 2020. Hope the courts don’t allow those responsible for the state affairs is allowed to go scot free.

 

(The writer is an author and president, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice)

 

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