Half-hearted firefighting

SC rap exposes laxity of Centre, states on stubble burning

The Centre and the states have again been caught napping on the seasonal scourge of stubble burning, forcing the Supreme Court to raise the fire alarm. In a blistering attack on the government machinery, the court has stated that top-level officers ‘sit in their ivory towers and let people die’. What lends credence to this scathing observation is the Centre’s witless suggestion that areas in Punjab and Haryana be divided into seven zones, with farmers in each zone being allowed to burn crop residue in turn. No wonder this idea — perhaps unconsciously inspired by Delhi’s ineffectual odd-even scheme — was outrightly rejected by the Bench.

The dressing-down by the SC has, as expected, roused the powers that be into action, with PM Narendra Modi directing the Agriculture Ministry to give priority to farmers of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana in distributing equipment to prevent straw fires. Citing lack of funds, the Punjab Government has reiterated its demand for Central help to incentivise small and marginal farmers so that they don’t burn stubble. Under the judicial scanner, the governments are going all out to show how serious they are on this burning issue. However, going by their past record, the status quo will be restored once the uproar dies down and the air becomes somewhat breathable.

The Central and state governments have miserably failed to dissuade farmers from setting stubble ablaze. The machinery for crop residue management is either in short supply or is not reaching the intended beneficiaries. Political parties desperately woo the farming community with promises such as waiving their crop loans or doubling their income, but stop short of red-flagging the widespread air pollution caused by field fires. What’s direly needed is a long-term roadmap to tackle the problem, factoring in various aspects — equipment, incentives, subsidy and penalties. A judicious mix of solutions, incentives and regulation, executed in a planned manner, rather than a quick-fix aimed at pacifying the court is the way forward. The nation owes its food security to the farmers. Branding them as criminals or offenders without giving them adequate support to stop eco-unfriendly practices reeks of ingratitude and indifference.

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