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Is Air Pollution In Delhi Nobody’s Priority Amidst Farmer’s Protest?

The entire city is in a hostage situation and we are going to see sustained stubble burning in future as well, as farmers continue to be instigated to persist with their stir.

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Delhiites got a little breather when the Central Government had passed the Commission for Air Quality Management for NCR Ordinance, 2020 to tackle the issue of Air pollution. As the season turns, so does Delhi’s air and with it comes the predictable assault on Delhiites’ lungs when Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas has been shut down within months of its constitution because the ordinance has now lapsed.

The demands of the farmers and the choices of concession apparently being given illumine the truth that the issue of Delhi’s air is nobody’s priority. It does not figure in the media debates, the floor of the legislature or our own dining tables even. It seems that we, the people of Delhi, its political leadership and the civil society, have collectively given up on the air we breathe in.

The Central Government promulgated new farm laws/ ordinances in India during 2020 to protect the interests of farmers and also, to save the environment. Over the last few months Indian farmers have put up a strong resistance to the farm laws introduced by the Central Government in more ways than one. A crucial part of their over all demand, apart from rolling back the three farm laws has been dispensing with the fine imposed on stubble burning. 

The Central Government passed the Commission for Air Quality Management for NCR Ordinance, 2020 to tackle this issue. Through this ordinance, stubble burning was to be penalised which was hopefully an effective step towards curbing the menace. However, the farm protests are now pressurising Central Government to concede to the demand to exclude the penalty clause for stubble burning from the laws. The Delhi’s air emergency is once again pushed to the backburner. Formation of the commission was a step towards a consolidated, collaborative and participatory approach to tackling air pollution. With the ordinance lapsing, it may mark a return to fragmented monitoring and management of air quality in the NCR.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for example, openly supports the agitation against the farm laws, while he had previously been overly critical of the farmers in Punjab and Haryana for stubble burning. All his Press campaigns on the issue of air pollution in Delhi during 2019 had centred squarely on stubble burning, which he had blamed for the foul air in Delhi.  Delhi Government need to request the farmers to stop stubble burning through sustained campaigns. In fact, during the ongoing farm agitation, stubble burning increased many folds and the capital city choked yet again, in the absence of any state protection whatsoever.

Personally, my fight for clean air in Delhi is on since 2015 before the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in the matter titled as ‘Sudhir Mishra vs Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Ors.’ in W.P. (C) 2115/2015 tagged with a suo-moto matter of the High Court. At the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, I had again moved to the High Court of Delhi to somehow control air pollution in Delhi, which was being adversely affected by stubble burning. The court was reluctant from passing any order as the government stated that it was planning to bring an ordinance to tackle the issue of stubble burning.

Currently, there is no guideline or any legal framework dealing with the issue of stubble burning and air pollution in Delhi. This is the progress made after people in Delhi faced debilitating air quality year after year. The lack of seriousness in tackling the issue of stubble burning also comes off as a complete disregard for the lives of Delhiites especially when air pollution claimed around 54,000 lives in 2020 alone. The contamination level of Delhi air continues to be six times higher than the specified WHO limits. The air pollution in Delhi has been the focus of the entire world for the last one decade with Delhi topping the list of the most polluted cities around the world. Needless to say, little has been done to address the issue effectively. On the contrary, conflicting stands have been taken by Governments for the ‘State’ of Delhi.

In the entire maze of confusing discussions over the new farm laws controversy, somewhere the taxpaying middle-class of the capital city of Delhi have been the most neglected. Not only are the state borders closed and movements of Delhi residents restricted, but their lungs too are choking on account of the air quality in Delhi. The entire city is in a hostage situation and we are going to see sustained stubble burning in future as well, as farmers continue to be instigated to persist with their stir.

While the global climate activist like Greta Thunberg support the farm laws, do they also feel that the lungs of young children of Delhi deserve a chance to heal on account of smoky air of Delhi which is fundamentally shortening their life span then they can appeal to the protesting farmers not to burn any crop residue atleast for this year.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Sudhir Mishra

The author is Founder and Managing Partner, Trust Legal.

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Saurav Baveja

Mr. Saurav Baveja is an Associate at Trust Legal. His areas of interest include civil and commercial matters including Insolvency & Bankruptcy Laws and matrimonial matters.

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