The pollution problem across Delhi, Punjab and Haryana every October-November worsened yesterday as stubble burning incidents in Punjab rose to 3,634, the highest this season. According to data from the Ludhiana-based Punjab Remote Sensing Centre, cumulative cases between September and November have now reached 21,480, much higher than last year’s reported cases – 17,921.
Notably, on November 2, the state had similar cases in both 2020 and 2021—3,590 and 3,001 respectively. According to reports, at present, districts of Malwa region are witnessing increasing number of stubble burning.
Of the total 3,634 farm fire incidents on Wednesday, 677 occurred in Sangrur, the highest in the state, followed by 395 in Patiala, 342 in Ferozepur, 317 in Bathinda, 278 in Barnala, 198 in Ludhiana, 191 in Mansa, 173 in Moga and Muktsar and 167 in Faridkot.
Just a day after such fires broke out in farms, Delhi’s air quality stood at ‘very poor’ with AQI at 346.
Farmers have to set fire to their fields to clear crop residues for sowing the next crop – wheat and vegetables. It has been of concern for several years contributing significantly to the overall share of pollution. The main reason behind this is the short window for rabi crop wheat which has to be sown immediately after paddy harvest. Punjab produces about 180 lakh tonnes of paddy straw annually resulting in frequent burning of such straw.
The pollution index across Haryana yesterday oscillated between poor and very poor while Punjab was in the ‘moderate’ to ‘poor’ category. According to the Central Pollution Board, Haryana’s Bahadurgarh air quality index is reported at 352. Among other regions of the state, air quality in Faridabad is 348, Jind 337, Gurgaon 323, Fatehabad 320, Sirsa 299, 283. In Sonipat, 277 in Hisar, 259 in Charkhi Dadri, 211 in Kurukshetra and 178 in Ambala.
In Punjab, the AQI of Amritsar, Khanna, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Mandi Gobindgarh and Patiala stood at 165, 161, 251, 152, 138 and 163 respectively. An AQI of 0-50 is considered “good”, 51-100 “satisfactory”, 101-200 “moderate”, 201-300 “poor”, 301-400 “very poor”, and 401-500 “severe”.
As the people of the three states choke on polluted air, the political blame game is in full swing.
Haryana Chief Minister blamed the Punjab government
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar yesterday hit out at his Punjab counterpart Bhagwant Mann over stubble burning and said that Mann was inciting farmers to set fire to their farms and leveling baseless blame on the Centre.
“God Maan is provoking the farmers. Instead of making false allegations against the central government, it should formulate a detailed strategy on straw management,” Khattar said in an official statement.
Continuing his tirade against Mann for failing to control stubble burning, Khattar said the AAP leader must learn from the BJP government in Haryana and motivate farmers to refrain from such practices.
“The Haryana government has provided an incentive of Rs 1,000 per acre to those who do not burn stubble,” the statement noted.
He compared stubble burning incidents between Punjab and Haryana and added, “So far in 2022, there have been 2,249 farm fire incidents in Haryana, while Punjab has seen a 20 percent increase in these incidents. So far, 21,500 such incidents have been reported in Punjab.”
Khattar also hit out at Delhi Chief Minister and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal for his ‘false promises’, saying, “Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal earlier blamed the farmers of Punjab and Haryana for pollution in Delhi and now his whole blame game is gone. In Haryana only his party came to power in Punjab. .
AAP blames Center for pollution
Earlier, both Bhagwant Mann and Arvind Kejriwal received complaints about the Centre’s inaction in burning straw. Mann claimed that the BJP was seeking revenge from Punjab farmers for participating in anti-farming protests that led to the scrapping of three controversial farm laws.
“The BJP wants to take revenge from the farmers because they broke the central government’s arrogance with a very big movement,” Mann said.
He compared the situation in Punjab with other neighboring states and added, “Punjab and Delhi seem to be just spreading the pollution, while Switzerland is settling in the surrounding areas.”
Mann also echoed the earlier allegations of Kejriwal who said it was because of the Center that they could not provide incentives to farmers. The AAP government in Punjab had in July proposed to the Center an incentive of Rs 2500 per acre to farmers for alternative straw management. AAP has asked the Center to pay Rs. 1500 when they promised to add the rest.
The Centre, according to Punjab government officials, however, has not toed the line of the proposal as they are providing their subsidized machinery – such as happy seeders, rotavators and mulchers – for in-situ management of paddy stubble. The Center also said it does not have enough money to provide incentives.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Environment Minister Gopal Rai had earlier raised the issue and said the Center was continuously writing to state governments to file FIRs against farmers involved in stubble burning. However, Kejriwal directly opposed such a directive and said that if the Center failed to control pollution, it would have to step down and leave AAP to learn how to do it.
BJP’s ‘Gas Chamber’
Union minister Bhupinder Yadav has also thrown his hat into the political mudslinging ring and blamed the newly elected government for the alleged 19% rise in farm fires in Punjab.
Yadav said the fires in Punjab’s farms have turned the national capital into a ‘gas chamber’. Accusing the AAP government of scams and corruption, he added, “AAP is where the scam is. In the last 5 years, the central government has given Punjab Rs 1,347 crore for crop residue management machines. The state purchased 1,20,000 machines. Of these, 11,275 machines were lost. The use of money shows clear incompetence.”
The Union Minister also claimed that there was an arrears of Rs 212 crore last year. This year, the Center gave Rs 280 crore to Punjab for crop residue management machines. “So about Rs 492 crore was available but the state government chose to sit on the funds to force helpless farmers to burn crop residue,” he added.
Amid the political blame game over straw burning, its share in Delhi’s pollution currently stands at 12%, said a report by SAFAR, a forecasting agency under the Ministry of Earth Sciences.