Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Wednesday blamed the central government for rising incidents of stubble burning in Punjab and said it should “resign” if it cannot control air pollution.
He told reporters here that the Punjab government had prepared a plan to give a cash incentive of Rs 2,500 per acre to farmers so that they are not forced to burn stubble.
“The Centre rejected the proposal. They said they won’t do anything for the farmers because of their protests against the three farm laws. The central government’s hatred for farmers is the reason behind the smoke (from farm fires) all around,” Kejriwal claimed.
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He said the Delhi government has been doing everything possible to fight air pollution and has strictly implemented curbs on pollution activities under the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP). Similarly, the Punjab government has taken all necessary steps to prevent stubble burning. “If the Centre cannot control air pollution, it should resign. We will then show how to do it,” he said.
The Delhi and Punjab governments jointly sent a proposal to the Centre in July to help them give cash incentives to farmers in the agrarian state for not burning stubble.
According to the proposal, Delhi and Punjab would give Rs 500 each and the Centre would contribute Rs 1,500 per acre.
Farmers say a cash incentive can help them cover the cost of the fuel used in operating the machinery for the in-situ management of paddy straw.
According to Punjab government officials, the Centre rejected the proposal, saying it has been providing subsidised machinery to farmers, such as happy seeders, rotavators and mulchers, for the in-situ management of paddy straw and that it does not have money to dole out cash incentives.
“Air pollution impacts the entire north India, not just Punjab and Delhi. The air quality index is worsening across Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. Is it because of the Aam Aadmi Party?” the chief minister said while talking to reporters here. “If the entire north India is reeling under air pollution, who will find a solution to it? The prime minister will have to do it. He will have to convene meetings with everyone. Why isn’t the PM doing that?” he said.
Kejriwal said abusing him or farmers in Punjab will not resolve the problem of stubble burning.
“The Centre has written a number of letters to the Punjab government to file FIRs against farmers. Why are you so eager to file FIRs against them,” the chief minister said.
Earlier in the day, Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai accused the BJP of targeting farmers in Punjab for stubble burning because of their earlier protests against three contentious farm laws of the Centre, which have since been repealed.
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Rai said farmers are forced to burn stubble in Punjab because the BJP-led Centre did not support the state government’s plan to provide a cash incentive to them for not burning the crop residue.
“Everybody is asking the same question — why has stubble burning not reduced despite AAP being in power in Delhi and Punjab? Stubble burning has not reduced because the Centre has denied support,” Rai told a press conference here.
“The Centre betrayed the farmers. I think they hate farmers because of the protests (against the farm laws),” Rai said.
“The BJP is blaming farmers for burning stubble…. They want FIRs to be filed against them. They should stop abusing farmers, stop seeking revenge from them,” he added.
The minister said the problem of air pollution cannot be resolved through politics.
“The Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) has come up with the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), which will needs to be implemented in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana too — in Ghaziabad, Noida, Greater Noida, Gurugram and Bahadurgarh,” the AAP leader said.
“We have been following the GRAP and have accordingly banned construction work, barring some essential projects, in Delhi. We need the support of the governments in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. They need to become active.” Rai slammed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), saying it opposed the ban on firecrackers, stopped the implementation of the “Red Light on, Gaadi off” campaign and is now violating the ban on polluting activities in the capital.
“I am amazed that the BJP has stooped so low for politics. Don’t they know that the GRAP has been implemented in Delhi? Don’t they read newspapers?” he asked.
Along with unfavourable meteorological conditions, paddy straw burning in Punjab and Haryana is a major reason behind the alarming spike in the air pollution levels in the national capital in October-November. Farmers set their fields on fire to quickly clear off the crop residue before cultivating wheat and vegetables.
The total area under paddy cultivation in Punjab this year is pegged at 29-30 lakh hectares. On an average, the state generates around 20 million tons of paddy straw annually.
SAFAR, a forecasting agency under the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences, said the share of farm fires in Delhi’s PM2.5 pollution stood at 12 per cent on Wednesday, 14 per cent on Tuesday. It was 22 per cent on Monday, 26 per cent on Sunday, the highest this year so far, and 21 per cent on Saturday.
The Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) reported 3,634 farm fires in Punjab on Wednesday, the highest this year so far, 1,842 on Tuesday and 2,131 on Monday.