Environmental protection is still posing a serious challenge. Understandably, the climate changes triggered by environmental degradation will spiral up weather-related disasters. The growing dependence on petroleum products and increasing urbanization are giving menacing look to environment as well as most of the countries have failed to set time frame to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions. Recently, addressing the fourth clean energy ministerial conference, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed his serious concern over the tardy progress regarding climate change at the international level. According to him, no progress was made in the direction of those issues which were raised in the United Nation’s conference. While the developed nations are not ready to cut down greenhouse gas emissions, the developing countries on the other hand are seething for being entrusted with the responsibility of protecting the environment.  If the developing nations are blaming the developed countries for degradation of environment owing to economic development, the latter are brainwashing the former that following their footprints would cause irreparable loss to environment.

It is obvious that different parameters for pollution control could be a potent reason for lack of consensus between developing and developed countries. It clearly emanates from the UN conference that the developing countries have also joined the bandwagon of developed ones as far as protection of environment is concerned. India is also included in such club of developing nations. Hardly would anyone be able to know what concrete steps have been taken by the Central government in the context of environmental protection. Our Prime Minister cannot be ignorant about the fact that India too is witnessing unexpected changing climate patterns.

It is a fact that the changing climate patterns have resulted in some summer severity and winter woes in the recent years. Constant spell of dense smog in Delhi and surrounding areas in last winter was attributed to the burning of rice husk and stalks by farmers in their paddy fields in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. Smoke billowing from burning paddy stubbles caused persistent fog over the region and stayed until it was dispersed by first winter rains.  A study shows that plumes of smoke emitted from the burning of rice stalks in the paddy fields in neighbouring Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab spreads over Delhi. The practice of burning dried stalks in the fields has increased in Punjab-Haryana ever since conventional thrashers have been replaced by modern machines. Despite several agricultural techniques farmers are unable to give up burning of crop residue.  What is more worrying is that the farmers of Punjab and Haryana have started burning wheat stalks.  Gradually, the farmers of other states have started following this trend. However, the farmers are not able to understand that by doing this they are polluting environment as well as fertility of the farm soil. Unfortunately, such is the political system of the country that several environmental projects worth billions of dollars are pushed into cold storage and farmers are not discouraged for stalk burning so as to protect the environment.

Even the official figures are indicating that 37 major projects worth Rs 2 lakh crore are still pending as they have failed to get the clearance of forest and environment department. Many of these projects, which have been prioritized by the Centre, have been hanging fire for the last seven-eight years. Mining work is hampered in the wake of pending power, roads and cement projects. This apart, business groups are either slapped with hefty fines for violating environmental norms or the clearance given to their projects is rejected. Recently, a subsidiary of UK-based Vedanta Group was asked to pay Rs 100 crore as compensation for polluting environment while a fine of Rs 200 crore was recommended on Gujarat based Adnani group. On the contrary, despite a ban imposed on stubble burning, the unhealthy practice continues in Haryana. Around 14 crore tonnes of agricultural wastes are burnt every year across the country while Haryana alone accounts for burning of almost one crore tonne of wheat stalk and 40 lakh tonne of rice stalk burning.

There are several organizations in the country opposing major projects in the name of environmental conservation but there seems to be no outfit that comes forward to raise its voice against the environmental hazard caused due to burning of crop residue. Political parties also remain silent on this issue since they see farmers as a major vote bank. It is because of this vote bank that wealthy farmers are spared from paying taxes. It is discouraging to note that the farmers are deliberately not made to realize that their farming methods are hampering both environment and soil. If this continues, it will only create problems for the farmers because the fertility of the soil would not increase despite opting various organic methods. Punjab has already started witnessing such a trend. The damage being caused to the soil is resulting in decline in the yield.

Even as the scientists have cautioned the government, but the ruling establishment seems to have not taken it earnestly. If burning of leaves can be prohibited in Delhi, why can’t there be a similar guideline in rural areas to discourage the burning of dried stalks? It is incorrect to have two separate parameters for business groups and farmers in the same country when it comes to environmental protection. Environmental protection is everyone’s responsibility. It can be understood that financial assistance can be provided to poor and villagers in lieu of protecting the environment but this does not signify that they should be given some relaxations in following the law. It would be pertinent to know, why there are only concerns over the damage caused to environment through industries, mining operations and road construction, while there is no initiative to stop burning of stalks.

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on April 21, 2013 translated by the English editorial. The author is the Group Editor of Dainik Jagran)