Case Study 20

You are posted as the secretary to the environment ministry of India. The country is ranked poorly among different environmental health indicators published by various international agencies.

Under such a scenario, the Central Government has received a complaint from the Delhi State Government regarding the increasing air pollution in the capital during the months of October and November. The major reason behind this enhanced level is the burning of stubble by the farmers in the neighbouring states of Delhi. 

Stubble is the straw that stands behind after paddy, wheat and other crops have been harvested using a machine. Stubble burning is an age-old practice to prepare the fields for the next sowing season. As for farmers, stubble burning enhances the productivity of their land and is also a cheap and fast way to dispose of waste after harvesting is done.

You are in a state of dilemma as any one-sided decision can have serious repercussions. Analyse the situation from different perspectives and explain what steps can be taken to resolve the situation.


The following are ethical issues involved in the case:

  1. Environmental justice – to people of Delhi.
  2. Social justice – to poor farmers of neighbouring states.
  3. India’s image in international indices.
  4. Interstate disputes may occur due to conflicting concerns of different states.
  5. Cooperative federalism – an amicable solution to the problems must be devised by both centre and states.

Environmental pollution is a major problem, especially in developing nations. It causes socio-economic distress, affects agriculture adversely, causes diseases to children and the elderly and decreases the overall quality of life. It also brings a bad name to the nation which will affect tourism.

Poor farmers who do not have enough resources for proper waste disposal will find it economically burdensome if asked to do so. They burn the stubble to cultivate the next crop, thus, this pollution from the farmer’s point of view is a livelihood issue. Also, stubble burning is an age-old tradition and farmers believe that it adds to the productivity of the soil. Thus, this will require persuasion and attitudinal changes.

International pollution indices are representative of the character of the nation. It also affects investment and tourism.

There are also chances of inter-state disputes arising due to different environmental concerns and one state is affected by the pollution caused by the other states.      

The issue of cooperative federalism may also arise. Hence amicable and mutually acceptable solutions have to be developed.

Following are some of the steps that can be taken to resolve the issue –

  1. Some environment-friendly methods can be devised to convert waste to resources. Renewable energy like Bioethanol can be produced, Decentralised small plants can be set up by government subsidies at the community level, The cardboard and paper industry can be set up in those states with waste collection chains and Electricity can be generated from the waste. 

2. MGNEREGA can be used to collect waste from the field and supply it to industries. This apart from solving the problem of pollution will also generate employment.

3. Delhi and other neighbouring states can purchase power from the agricultural states to encourage the production of power farm wastes.

4. Delhi can also provide expertise to develop those environmentally friendly states as it is industrially developed. This will also create cohesion among states and make pollution a common problem.

5. Centre and state governments can do advertisements and mass education against stubble burning which also causes underground water pollution. Attitudinal changes have to be brought about so that gradually farmers give up such practices.

6. Farmers can be made aware of how stubble burning adversely affects the biota and productivity of land and reduces farm outputs.

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