India's top court demands end to stubble burning to curb pollution

Delhi is blanketed in thick layer of toxic smog

Smog on Monday in Delhi where residents are experiencing the annual surge in air pollution. AP
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India's Supreme Court demanded an end to the contentious practice of stubble burning while hearing a petition on toxic air quality in Delhi.

The top court said measures taken by Punjab, Haryana and Delhi state governments as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s federal government lacked the power to curb the harmful practice.

“We want [stubble burning] stopped. We don't know how you do it, it’s your job. But it must be stopped. Something has to be done immediately,” presiding Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul told the Punjab government.

Stubble burning – burning leftover straw after rice harvesting to clear the paddy for new crops in the vast farmlands of neighbouring states Haryana and Punjab – reappears as an issue every winter.

Most of the smoke travels to Delhi due to prevailing winds and forms a noxious blanket of smog that aggravates the pollution crisis in the capital.

“Whether by sometimes forceful actions and sometimes by incentives … You have to stop the fire. Your administration must do so … We are not saying that stubble burning is the only contributor, but it is a significant factor,” Justice Kaul said.

Delhi has been experiencing high levels of toxic air levels since October and is shrouded in a thick blanket of hazardous smog with its Air Quality Index reaching emergency levels.

The Aam Aadmi Party-led government has suspended most school classes for the week in a desperate attempt to mitigate the crisis.

The Delhi government has blamed the pollution crisis on farm fires in the neighbouring BJP-ruled state of Haryana.

The BJP-led central government, however, has blamed the farm fires in northern Punjab for the spike in pollution in Delhi.

Despite a ban, Punjab reported more than 2,000 farm fires on Monday, taking the total to nearly 19,500 this harvest season, according to Ludhiana-based Punjab Remote Sensing Centre.

“The residents of Delhi are grappling with health problems year after year because we cannot find a solution to the issue. It requires immediate attention and court monitoring irrespective of the fact whether the matter improves or not,” the court said in the order.

The court will hear the matter again on November 10.

Updated: November 07, 2023, 4:50 PM