The paddy stubble burning in Punjab may have localized impact in the state but there has been no scientific study to back the claim that smoke emanating from farm fires in the border state contributes to air pollution in Delhi, National Green Tribunal member Justice Sudhir Agarwal has said. . Asking how smoke could travel to the national capital only and not any further, Justice Sudhir Agarwal also termed as ‘grave injustice’ the move to impose fines and arresting only the farmers over stubble burning.

“Har bat ke liye kisan bhaiyon ko zimmedar thehrana mujhe samajh nahi aata hai (Holding farmers responsible for everything is beyond my comprehension)… Prosecuting, fining and jailing the farmers only (for stubble burning) will be grave injustice,” he said.

Justice Agarwal was speaking at the ‘Conference on Environment Friendly Paddy Cultivation’ and ‘Savior of Natural Resources and Environment Award’ held in the national capital on July 1. The event was organized to “felicitate an facilitate” water friendly, air friendly, earth friendly paddy cultivation.

Sharing his experiences as a member of the NGT, Justice Agarwal said stubble burning was often considered the main cause of rising air pollution in Delhi.

“I was informed that a significant portion of Delhi’s pollution stems from the burning of stubble (parali) in Punjab. However, upon further investigation, I found that attributing all responsibility to farmers may not be justified without proper reasons. Is there any scientific study supporting this?,” he asked.

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He said Punjab is not even an immediate neighbor of Delhi, which shares its borders with Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Punjab is situated to the north of Delhi.

“Nowadays, there is much discussion about Punjab’s stubble. It seems that the smoke from stubble burning is keen on reaching the national capital and after polluting it, it does not disperse beyond Delhi,” he said.

“If indeed this smoke is reaching Delhi, it would require predominantly north to south wind direction, which is not always the case according to IMD. When the wind does not blow in this direction, how does this smoke, which is heavy in nature, manage to reach here? For the smoke to travel, wind velocity is necessary, but Delhi’s wind does not extend to Ghaziabad, adjacent to the national capital. If Punjab’s stubble smoke were to reach after traveling hundreds of kilometers to Delhi, there should also be heavy particles accompanying it. However, Delhi’s pollution reports indicate a presence of more oil content, whereas stubble is dry. Where does this oil content in Delhi’s pollution come from? While there may be some impact, why does Punjab’s stubble smoke not travel towards Pakistan when winds blow in other directions,” he asked.

The real reason for Delhi’s air pollution is something else and the prosecution of farmers for this is wholly unjust, he said, adding “there may be some political reasons behind such an accusation… I don’t know.”

The impact of stubble burning could be localized, primarily affecting Punjab, and it requires local solutions, he said.

“There is a pressing need for a comprehensive, in-depth study on this matter instead of hastily prosecuting and imprisoning farmers, which is unjust. We must identify who can conduct such a study, considering potential political motivations. However, it is our collective responsibility to address air pollution. Solutions must start at the local level,” Justice Agarwal said.

Farmers and other stakeholders are innovating, but these efforts are often insufficient due to the limited education among many farmers who adhere to traditional practices. We require more such meetings to educate farmers in villages systematically over time, fostering gradual solutions, he added.

Senior advocate HS Phoolka also spoke at the event and said there are two approaches to saving the falling water table and preventing the land from turning barren. “The first approach which is being followed since many decades is diversification. But, unfortunately, this approach has failed and every year the area under cultivation of paddy is increasing and not decreasing. The main reason for the failure of this approach is that there is no viable alternative,” he said.

The second approach is eco friendly cultivation of paddy, he added.