In response to the increasing air pollution levels in Delhi-NCR, the Supreme Court on November 7th issued a directive to replace paddy cultivation with other crops as a means to reduce stubble burning, highlighting that paddy was not native to the region.
A panel presided over by Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia was overseeing cases related to air pollution in Delhi-NCR. The court emphasized that paddy was not an indigenous crop in Punjab and suggested that a transition to alternative crops could occur if Minimum Support Price (MSP) were redirected towards these alternatives rather than paddy.
As quoted by Bar and Bench, the court’s directive stated, “The transition can only take place when MSP is not granted for paddy but is provided for an alternative crop, a direction that the Central Government is already inclined to encourage through the cultivation and utilization of traditional crops.”
This order was issued in the context of the court’s prior mandate for farmers to immediately cease stubble burning in the northern states of Punjab, Haryana, and Western Uttar Pradesh, acknowledging it as a significant contributor to air pollution.
During the winter months, air pollution tends to intensify due to various factors, including dust and vehicular emissions, dry and cold weather, stubble burning, post-harvest residue burning, and increased commuting. It is customary for farmers to burn straw stubble in fields after the harvest of crops such as wheat and paddy to prepare the land for the next planting season.
The bench expressed its concerns about the government’s inability to effectively curtail stubble burning, while recognizing that although it may not be the sole cause of air pollution, it remains a substantial contributor.
Gurminder Singh recommended to the court that the cultivation of paddy should be phased out in favor of other crops, and that the Central government should explore providing Minimum Support Price (MSP) for these alternative crops in place of paddy. Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan also observed that paddy should not have been grown in Punjab, as it has led to a decline in groundwater levels.
Justice Kaul pointed out to the Central government, “You are promoting millets on one hand and then letting paddy ruin groundwater… The crop is destroying the water table of the State. The problem persists year after year.”
Consequently, the bench concluded that paddy was not indigenous to Punjab and that a transition to alternative crops could be viable if MSP were reallocated to these crops, aligning with the Central government’s efforts to promote traditional crops like millets.