Arvind Kejriwal wants a year but will he succeed in controlling stubble burning in Punjab? | Tech Reddy
Chandigarh: With the air quality in the national capital again falling to the ‘severe’ category, AAP national convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Friday came forward and took charge of Punjab’s stubble burning.
Until very recently, Kejriwal was locking horns with the Center after stubble burning went out of control in the state that his party has ruled since March this year, a 19% increase over last year.
As the number of cases in Punjab rose to 24,000 on Thursday and air quality in Delhi and other cities subsequently deteriorated, Kejriwal changed his tune.
He not only acknowledged his government’s failure to stop stubble fires in Punjab but promised not to indulge in the blame game and find a solution within the next year.
He asked the Center to take more initiatives due to pollution, he said, now a problem in North India, not limited to Delhi alone.
“We have a government in Punjab. We will take responsibility if straw is burnt there,” Kejriwal said at a joint press conference with Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann.
Since they were only in government in Punjab for the last six months, he said, some solutions have worked but many others have not.
Mann also said the wheat crop was ready for harvest in March, the month he took the oath. Immediately after that there is a grain of rice.
Kejriwal added, “I am quite optimistic that stubble burning will come down in Punjab within the next year. We will take firm steps and engage with farmers to find possible solutions.”
He said that air pollution is not only a problem of Delhi. “Several cities in Haryana, Rajasthan and UP suffered equally,” he said in his press statement while reading out the names of cities with air quality in the severe category like Delhi.
It included Haryana’s Rohtak, Bhiwani, Charkhi Dadri, Sonepat, Bahadurgarh, Jind, Manesar, Gurgaon, UP’s Noida, Greater Noida, Ghaziabad and Rajasthan’s Bhiwadi.
Kejriwal said this shows that this is a problem for the entire northern region. There is no particular reason for this. Apart from local factors there are also regional factors such as wind moving from one state to another.
“As I have said before, this is not the time to point fingers at each other or play politics. We cannot find a solution for this. The Center must come forward to work closely with all the affected states,” he said.
While Kejriwal said they would ensure reduction in the incidence of hay fever by next year, the challenges are more.
The scale of the problem is huge as about 40-45 lakh acres or 70% of the paddy land in Punjab is burnt every year.
Both in-situ and ex-situ measures, so far applied to reduce the stirring fire, have had limited effect for several reasons.
First, small and marginal farmers, who account for 32% of the total, claim that they are not in a position to purchase crop residue machines, which cost more than Rs 1.5 lakh even at subsidized prices.
Punjab has distributed 1.2 lakh subsidized crop residue machines in the last five years using a subsidy grant of Rs 1300 crore from the Centre.
The Delhi-based Council on Environment, Energy and Water noted in its recent report that even available crop residue machines had limited use among owners as operation costs remain high.
Ex-situ solutions such as use of straw as raw material in paper mills and production of bio-gas or CNG etc. have limited impact, in terms of quantity of straw, production is about 200 lakh tonnes.
Then, farm unions have political pressure as farmers are a huge vote bank in the state.
No political party wants to take strict action against farmers.
Even today, Kejriwal has repeatedly said that the farmers of Punjab should not be blamed for this mess. They will stop burning it if they find a possible solution.
As Kejriwal promised, Punjab will take separate steps to control it by next year, with Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann saying more biogas power plants will be set up as well as focus on crop diversification.
“We will try to help farmers to sow dal and mustard so that there is no burn next year. We will take several more initiatives with farmers and other concerned stakeholders to stop this parali (khunda) problem,” the CM added.