The National Green Tribunal on Wednesday asked the Punjab government to produce before it 21 farmers whom it claimed to have helped by giving incentives and infrastructural facilities to prevent them from burning crop stubble in a bid to check air pollution.
Agricultural stubble — millions of tonnes — is burnt by farmers in northern India every October, triggering heavy pollution in Delhi-NCR before the onset of winter.
Though the NGT banned crop burning in 2015, implementing the order had been difficult. Farmers set crop residue afire mainly because of cost concerns and the short gap between summer and winter crops. Lack of incentives and equipment to cut the stubble are other issues.
Over a hundred farmers had gathered outside the NGT premises here on Wednesday to attend the hearing on the issue and put forth their submissions and grievances through a lawyer before a bench headed by NGT chairperson justice Swatanter Kumar.
The bench took exception to the fact that even after more than two years, nothing substantial has been done with regard to stubble burning. “For two years, we waited for you (Punjab) to comply with our direction. We asked you to come up with an action plan for at least one district. What steps did you take in this regard?
“Can you produce a single farmer in entire Punjab, whom you can produce before us and say that you have given him any kind of assistance? This is not a political issue but this issue relates to the environment. You should think as a human being why this is taking so long,” the bench, also including Justice RS Rathore, said.
It directed the Punjab government to produce the 21 farmers before it on October 13.
During the proceedings, advocate IG Kapila, appearing for the farmers, referred to a newspaper report and said the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and a few biomass power units have expressed their intent to purchase crop residue from farmers in surrounding states.
He said the NTPC and representatives of other companies were willing to cut and buy crop residue from the fields. The NGT’s order had come on a plea by environmentalist Vikrant Tongad who had sought a ban on burning of agricultural waste and remnants in open fields.
On the last date of hearing, the green court had asked the state government to look into the problems faced by the farmers and directed its counsel to seek instructions whether compensation could be provided to them for disposing their agricultural residue while giving them liberty to engage any agency of their choice.