Let’s not bargain off health, environment–economic times

Clipped from: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/blogs/et-editorials/lets-not-bargain-off-health-environment/ET Edit

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The ‘consensus’ on stubble burning and free power after the last round of talks between the government and protesting farmers, mostly from Punjab, offers a disturbing conclusion. Public health and the environment are not priorities.

From the demands made by the farmers and the support they have garnered, devoid of measures of mitigation such as providing for an environment-friendly alternative to burning the crop residue, such as creating a market for it as input to biodigesters, it is clear that, as citizens, we attach little value to our health and continued well-being.

The farm laws seek to enhance farmers’ choice and let market forces guide farmers to diversify crops away from grain, of which the country has an excess. The debate should be on the modalities to minimise disruption. Free power supplied to farmers through unmetered connections is a source of not just major theft of power for non-farm uses but also of indiscriminate pumping out of water from the ground, leading to groundwater depletion.

The government must be criticised for agreeing to demands that risk public health but the blame lies with the protesting farmers and their supporters as well, who make demands that deplete groundwater, degrade the soil and pollute the air. Agreeing to the demands on decriminalising stubble burning and continuing subsidy for free electricity for farmers is a setback.

That these demands have gone unopposed by political parties supporting the farmers’ protests, including the Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, among the loudest critics of farmers who burn crop stubble, as well as sections of the civil society, particularly environmentalists, tells us of the low priority we place on human and environmental health and well-being.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.

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