CJI: Will smoke from stubble burning kill Coronavirus?

New Delhi:  Chief Justice S.A. Bobde asked the question during a hearing of a PIL against the seasonal stubble burning exercise in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. “Will the smoke kill the Coronavirus?” Chief Justice Bobde said. The smoke would not kill the coronavirus, but it would certainly worsen the situation and contribute towards its spread, said senior advocate Vikas Singh, representing the petitioners citing scientific study.

The PIL has been moved in the Supreme Court seeking directions to the Punjab and Haryana governments to ban stubble burning, which usually takes place between September and December every year, in the backdrop of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Singh, represented a law student Aman Banka and a Class 12 student Aditya Dubey.

Amicus Curiae senior advocate Aparajita Singh submitted before the court that states have failed to act as per their assurances to take measures to contain stubble burning. The Chief Justice asked Singh to give the court the name of the experts on the stubble burning matter. “Need some impartial people,” noted the bench.

The top court also asked Singh why the court was moved when the stubble burning issue is around the corner, instead he should have moved the apex court much earlier. Singh submitted that his clients have come across NASA images, which show stubble burning fires at many places.

The PIL said it is on record that stubble burning contributes almost 40 per cent of air pollution in Delhi and cited the Harvard University study that air pollution may now be an important factor that aggravates a mild Covid infection into an acute one. The petitioners also cited another study at Louisiana State University, which found that increased air pollution can offer a direct pathway for airborne transmission of Covid-19.

“Thus, any increase in the air pollution levels of Delhi-NCR this year while the Covid-19 pandemic is spiralling out of control, will exponentially increase the mortality rates due to Covid-19, comprising the respiratory system of the citizens, more so in case of senior citizens and children,” said the plea.

The petitioners argued that the consequences of allowing any stubble burning to take place amid the ongoing pandemic may be catastrophic. The plea contended that the top court has already seized the matter and issued many directions earlier for taking long term measures for controlling air pollution in Delhi, and urged the top court to issue directions to the state governments to stop stubble burning by farmers and also fix a ceiling on the rental of stubble removing machines during the period between September to January 2021.

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