Chandigarh/Lucknow: Farm bodies and Punjab government termed the ordinance promulgated by the Centre to set up a commission for air quality management in National Capital Region (NCR) as “anti-farmers” whereas governments of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana welcomed the decision, saying it would help in curbing air pollution which has been in very poor to severe category for the past fortnight in the region.

President Ramnath Kovind on Thursday notified the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Area Ordinance which creates a statutory body to manage air pollution with powers to issue directions to the state governments and initiate criminal proceedings against the violators leading to fine of up to Rs 1 crore and jail term of five years.

Terming the ordinance as dictatorial, Balbir Singh Rajewal president of a faction of Bharatiya Kisan Union, said, “The central government has failed to give compensation to farmers for stubble management as mandated by the Supreme Court. Now, the new ordinance has been enacted to arm-twist the hapless farmers”.

He asked how would small farmers pay a penalty of Rs 1 crore for failing to arrange additional Rs 5,000 per acre to manage paddy stubble. “There is no infrastructure to store 160 lakh tonnes of stubble which is almost equivalent to the paddy crop of a single season,” he said.

Rattan Mann, Haryana state president of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Tikait) said the law again reflects anti-farmer face of the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre. “The farmers of Haryana cannot blamed for air pollution in Delhi, there are several other reasons are behind it. Buy we want to make it clear that we will oppose any anti-farmer decision and soon a state level meeting of farmers will be called in this regard,” he said.

Even Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal said the ordinance fails to recognise ground reality. “Rules and laws passed by the Centre invite so much criticism and leads to upheaval because people on the ground are not consulted,” he said, adding his party opposes the new provision for setting up of a commission.

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

Punjab’s minister, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, said the ordinance was “ridiculous” for having very severe provisions.

“Most of the farmers in Punjab do not have the entire property of the value of a penalty amount. I think the Centre has made up mind to eliminate farmer and wants the corporate to usurp their land,” he said, demanding a re-think of the new proposal.

A Haryana environment department official, requesting anonymity, said that the ordinance would help the administration to enforce the environment regulations more strictly and there would be fear of violation because of stringent punishment provisions.

Uttar Pradesh principal secretary, environment, Sudhir Garg, welcomed the ordinance and said it was a step in the right direction. “Once we get the copy, the government will study it minutely–all the board aspects and fine prints. We will have internal meetings. Only then will we be able to comment. But, overall, it is a welcome step,” he said.

INDUSTRY UPSET

Different industry body leaders said that the Ordinance will further slow down the industry output which is facing dire straits due to Covid-19 and economic slowdown.

Pritam Singh Sachdeva, president, Northern India Roller Spinners’ Association, said targeting industries alone will not help until the government ensures that people are made aware about the impact of air pollution.

“The efforts should be made to cut air pollution especially by reducing vehicular emission. Targeting industries alone will not help,” he said.

Bhim Rana, president of Panipat Dyers’ Association said the Ordinance may adversely impact in Haryana, as most of the industries in the state falls in the NCR region. Jugal Kishore Bhiana of the Haryana Plywood Association, however, said the commission should provide a time period of at least a month for the violating industrialist to appeal.

President, Ludhiana based All Industries and Trade Forum, Badish Jindal, said their fear was creation of another commission could lead to further harassment by the government departments. “The government talks about ease of doing business but it is continuously taking steps which are putting the industry under unnecessary pressure,” he said.

Another Ludhiana based Federation of Industrial and Commercial Organisation (FICO) president, Gurmeet Singh Kular, said, “Establishing a new department means that the government is not satisfied with the working of NGT, CPCB and PPCB. The government is trying to put more pressure on the industry, which is already struggling to come back on track in the post-lockdown period due to ‘rail-roko’ agitation by farmers.”

Uttar Pradesh based Pankaj Kumar, national present, Indian Industries Association, a lobby body of medium and small scale industry (MSME) sector, “We are in favour of measures to check pollution in NCR but will oppose any coercive action against an industrialist in the name of checking pollution.”

The industry bodies in three northern states claimed that they have been targeted in the name of controlling air pollution even though they contribute the most for nation’s growth and economy.

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