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EDITORIAL 7 : “Stubble burning is not the only culprit”


T. Nanda Kumar


Stubble burning is not the only culprit

A solution to Delhi’s air pollution problem must look at farmers’ economic conditions, science and policy change

Stubble crop burning is not the only issue making our capital a gas chamber.Analyse -(GS 3)

GS 3:Combatting Air pollution
In this article you should concentrate the different kinds of Air pollution mitigation policies used over recent period of time and make a note on other issues which are making NCR region a living hell#SC


Air pollution in Delhi has always been a topic of discussion during Deepavali. Almost everyone gets into the “act”, the Supreme Court of India and top echelons of the Government not excluded, while children are forced to breathe polluted air.

Airwaves are filled with immediate “band-aid” type solutions and television experts finally come around to just one issue — stubble burning by farmers in Punjab.

Therefore, the solution also gets simplified; prosecute those who burn stubble (the stick) give them happy seeders by the thousands (the carrot). All is well till the next Deepavali.



PIC:Stubble crop burning



An oversimplification

  • Lone Culprits : If the problem was that simple, it would have been solved long ago. The intention is not to justify stubble burning, but to point out that it is not the only culprit (though it is an important one) and other factors need to be attended to as well.
  • Scientifically not true : The simplification of the narrative to stubble burning and the argument that all that smoke that comes out of Punjab’s paddy fields lands in the National Capital Region (NCR), particularly in the capital city of Delhi, may not stand scientific scrutiny considering the fact that wind speeds, dispersal rates and settling down of particles are governed by laws of science.
  • Other Players : However, no data was presented on the impact of burning of biomass in urban Delhi, coal fired ovens (tandoors) and coal-based industries, coal-based power plants in the outskirts of Delhi, the exponential increase in sport utility vehicles, or SUVs, in the NCR and so forth.
  • Economic Compulsion : As for stubble burning, we need to stop this practice for sure. But how do we do it? Farmers do it out of economic compulsion. The “city centric” argument is that Punjab now produces 25% more rice than what it did 15 years ago, which is good for the country, but bad for Delhi. Others argue that the Punjab Preservation of Sub-soil Water Act 2009 is the main culprit. There are many who believe that a generous distribution of direct seeders (or “Happy Seeders” as they are called) should make the difference.

Three ways out:

Essentially, we come to three options:

  • Reduce paddy area/production,
  • allow farmers to plant/transplant paddy before June and
  • distribute “happy seeders”. This will, according to many, address the problem of air pollution in Delhi during October and November.

Punjab Paddy production :

  •  Punjab was never a traditional rice cultivator.
  • It took up rice cultivation in response to the national policy of food self-sufficiency.
  • They achieved the highest productivity in the country and contributed maximum among all States to the central pool of rice procurement.
  • In the process, the area went up from 2.6 million hectares in 2001 to 3 million hectares in 2017; production went up from 9 million tonnes to 12.5 million tonnes.
  • Punjab dug deeper to get groundwater and caused long-term damage to itself.

Battle for production:

  • Attempts at diversification did not take off because of the difference in net farm returns and market risks.
  • A rice farmer earns about ₹57,000 per hectare whereas maize in a maize-wheat combination would set them back by about ₹15,000-17,000.
  • The farmer will not bear this burden.

Solution for this battle :

  • If the idea is to reduce area of common paddy by half a million hectares, resulting in a reduction of output of 2 million tonnes, the Central government has to step in and support this change for the next five years.
  • This half-a-million hectare should be in water-stressed blocks and can be encouraged to shift to maize or any other crop. Another one lakh hectare can shift to basmati production.


Falling water levels

  • Coming to the more controversial argument about the Punjab Preservation of Sub-soil Water Act 2009, there exist strong arguments to prevent over exploitation of groundwater especially if farmers cultivate rice in April/May.
  • Though strong evidence is necessary to establish improvement in groundwater levels, there is some evidence to show that the rate of deterioration has slowed down.

Viable giveaways:

  • The elephant in the room, however, is free power to tube wells. Can this amount of about ₹6,000 crore be shifted to a direct benefit transfer as has been suggested by policy experts? Is there a political will?  This shift could be a game changer.
  • A bigger game changer will be a shift to cash transfer in lieu of grains in the public distribution system by the Centre.

Happy Seeder A real solution?

  • Direct seeders do help but have limitations. First, the seeder has to operate within about 4-5 days of the harvest.
  • The effectiveness depends on the moisture (not too moist, not too dry) present in the soil at the time of seeding .
  • This requires a good understanding of soil conditions.
  • The agronomic practices need to change particularly with regard to application of fertilizer and irrigation.
  • These machines may be used only during the 15-day window in a whole year. They will remain idle for the remaining 350 days.
  • Punjab will need about 20,000 of these machines if basmati areas (about 6 lakh ha) and rice-potato areas are excluded from the calculation.


       IASbhai CONCLUSION:  

But the solution should take into consideration the economic condition of farmers, the scientific options available and the willingness of the State to change policy and fund a major part of the expenditure.

Blaming the farmers alone will not do; citizens need to put in their bit too. We owe it to the children.

EDITORIAL 8 : “A blow to disclosure norms”


M. Sridhar Acharyulu


A blow to disclosure norms

The apex court’s recent verdict makes several categories of information inaccessible to the public under RTI

RTI act has been kept on a strict diet . Measures in Section 8 do not justify the purpose of the  act. Critically analyse.  -(GS 4)

GS 4:Flaws in RTI and recommendations:Probity in Governance
What is RTI , How it is related to freedom of expression ! and the recent verdict has been analysed in this article.
  • Right to Information (RTI) is act of the Parliament of India to provide for setting out the practical regime of the right to information for citizens and replaces the erstwhile Freedom of information Act, 2002.
  • Under the provisions of the Act, any citizen of India may request information from a “public authority” (a body of Government or “instrumentality of State”) which is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days.
  • The Act also requires every public authority to computerise their records for wide dissemination and to proactively certain categories of information so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally.

The Supreme Court’s November 13 judgment on Right to Information (RTI) reduced the scope of ‘information’ and widened that of ‘restrictions’.

The RTI Act would never be the same after this verdict.

The Verdict:

Deviating from earlier decisions that said that ‘restrictions’ should be interpreted strictly and ‘information’ liberally, the five-judge Bench expanded the power, length and depth of exceptions under Section 8 of the Act.

The verdict also restricted the understanding of the terms ‘held by’ and ‘under the control’ of a public authority, making several classes of information inaccessible to the public.

If the Chief Information Commissioner’s stature and autonomy were reduced by the recent parliamentary amendment to the Act, the Supreme Court judgment amounted to a direct instruction to the Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) on how not to give information on various counts.

Still, the decision is welcome for two reasons:

1> it did not deny that the apex court is a public authority and answerable under the RTI Act.

2> judicial independence will only be strengthened with greater transparency.

The ‘indicative’ paragraph

  • Slashing requests: However, the real issue with the verdict lies in the carefully worded paragraph 59, which could potentially be used by bureaucrats to shoot down many RTI applications during the first request.
  • Armed against the voices: Instead of empowering citizens with greater access to information, the court has instead armed public servants to kill access requests.

Armours used to Swipe off RTI as per paragraph 59:

  • “Reading of the aforesaid judicial precedents… would indicate that personal records, including name, address, physical, mental and psychological status… are all treated as personal information.
  • Similarly, professional records, including… evaluation reports, disciplinary proceedings, etc. are all personal information. Medical records... information relating to assets, liabilities, income tax returns… are personal information.
  • Such personal information is entitled to protection from unwarranted invasion of privacy and conditional access is available when stipulation of larger public interest is satisfied. This list is indicative and not exhaustive.”

The last sentence of this paragraph, which makes the restrictions “indicative”, could become another tool in the hands of public servants to deny access requests.

Restrictions under Section 8

  • The Bench’s long list contradicts the provisions for disclosure available under Sections 8(1)(j) and 8(2) of the RTI Act.
  • One, personal information can be disclosed if it has any relationship with public activity or interest.
  • Two, even if such details have no relationship with public interest, they can be given if the disclosure does not cause an unwarranted invasion of privacy.
  • Three, even if the information causes unwarranted invasion of privacy, it could still be given if the larger public interest justifies the act. Finally, even if there is no larger public interest, it could still be shared if the public interest in disclosure outweighs the interest in its protection.
       IASbhai CONCLUSION:  
The only points the Supreme Court Bench was asked to consider pertained to assets report and appointment criteria of public servants. Its declaration in the form of the above-cited paragraph was uncalled for. For instance, how can the court declare educational qualifications, performance report or disciplinary proceedings pertaining to public servants as being outside the ambit of disclosure? If a specific educational degree is ‘qualification’ for a post, is it not related to public activity? Similarly, if the cost of medical treatment is reimbursed by the state, how can medical record become personal information?
Every time, the applicant will now be made to prove public interest, a concept which has been made further complex and ambiguous by the court.



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