The Supreme Court today in response to farmers violating the law by burning stubble, recommended that governments cease providing Minimum Support Price (MSP) to such farmers and suggested implementing measures that would have a tangible impact on the farmers. However, noting that MSP was a sensitive issue, the Court refrained from issuing any directives on this aspect.

The Bench of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia was dealing with a batch of pleas related to air pollution caused by stubble burning in the neighbouring states of Delhi.

Representing the State of Punjab, Advocate General Gurminder Singh Kharbanda informed the Court that in compliance with previous directives to immediately halt crop burning, the states have filed approximately 1000 FIRs, 984 FIRs to be precise, against landowners. A fine of around 2 crore has been imposed on farmers, with 618 red entries made debarring the farmers from taking any benefit from their jamabandi. The AG also stated that efforts to extinguish fires are ongoing, even in the midnight hours, resulting in six districts being declared completely fire-free. He further apprised the Court that there are protests against such restrictions imposed by the State.

Asking why any MSP should be given to the farmers who are burning stubble, Justice Kaul orally observed, "Despite observations of Court, despite counselling there are still people who believe they will keep on burning fires without thinking that people are getting affected. The stick must follow the carrot. It cannot be that they may do as it please. Then why must there be any purchase under MSP system?"

Further Justice Kaul stated, "That despite the action taken, FIRs filed still there are fires going on... Why should people who violate law... who are flagged as red mark for having led fires, their product should not be given the benefit. People who are burning should not be permitted to have rice crop on the field".

However, Justice Dhulia then intervened and said, "MSP is very difficult.. you cannot do away with it. Suppose you ban 'A', he will go to 'B' and 'B' will give it to 'A'. MSP is a very sensitive issue." Accordingly, the Court stated, "People who violate the norms, something should be done which pinches them".

The Court inquired further to the Advocate General, asking whether the fine had only been imposed or if it had also been collected. The AG clarified that the fine has only been imposed and they are in the process of collecting it. The Bench asked to apprise them of the status of recoveries by the next date.

The Court in its order noted, "Report filed by the State of Punjab is: 8184 meetings with held with farmers and farm leader to convince them to not burn the paddy stock by the SHOs. There are 1092 flying squads constituted. However, the upward trend in farm fire has not abated. 984 FIRs are stated to be lodged against the land owners. 618 red entries have been made in the revenue record. Environment compensation (EC) amounting to more than Rs. 2 crore is stated to be imposed and recovery is about Rs. 18 Lakhs, remaining recovery should take place and the Court should be informed of it on the next date."

Continuing the Court noted, "In so far as the enforcement of measure to control subtle burning is concerned, the report filed by the Union of India shows that out of the number of fields inspected, the number of cases where EC has been imposed is little more than 20%. The learned Attorney General has also flagged the statement showing release of funds. Learned Amicus flags the issue arising from the earlier order of 2019, where the States were directed to constitute custom hiring centres to make the machine available to marginal farmers. It is submitted that this has been implemented in the State of U.P. and Haryana. It is noted that Haryana has made 29,493 machines available and with 6,794 custom hiring centres. Learned Amicus submits that there is no data submitted by the State of Punjab. It is pointed out that from the status report of the centre that insofar as Punjab is concerned, the number of machines are 28378 and the number of custom hiring centres established is 25417."

The Court further noted, "Learned Amicus points out that for purchase of machinery, there is a subsidy of 50% for farmers and for cooperatives it is 80%. She, however, clarifies that as far as the custom hiring centres are concerned, the machinery is free for the marginal farmers. Learned Advocate General flags the issue that even if the machinery is given for free there are aspects of running cost i.e., hiring of tractor, manpower and fuel. We put it to the AG as to why the State cannot even fund this aspect and utilize the by-product which would possibly generate enough for purpose of what funding is to be extended. We say so because there are farmers operating on different operating economic scales where they are able to gain profit on these by-products by use of these machines. The state of Punjab would also take a cue from endeavours by the State of Haryana in the manner in which financial incentives are given as set out in the report of the central government."

Non-representation of farmers:

The Supreme Court today also flagged the issue of the absence of representatives of farmers before the Court. Justice Dhulia observed, "Who is for farmers? There is representative of everybody except the farmers. If we are passing something against them, they should be here."

Justice Dhulia on the issue of stubble burning also commented, "The question is are very pertinent, why are they doing it? Even the State is not able to give us any answer on this." While Justice Kaul stated, "Actually to my thinking process, the bottom line is money. They are not being sensitive to the other people. Either they want the government to spend money on them fully or they will not listen."

Justice Kaul on the issue of the representation of farmers before the Court, observed, "People who are following the norms will not come here. Those who are lighting the fires will not want to be here." However, Jusitce Dhulia stated, "Farmers are being made a villain, and the villain is not being heard". The Court accordingly ordered that the matter be posted on December 7.

The Court had on the last date of the hearing remarked that it would issue directions instructing Government Officers in Delhi to work in the open on the streets without masks. The Bench had also issued a series of directives to combat the pollution crisis in Delhi and its neighbouring regions.