Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai accused the BJP on Wednesday 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burning because of their earlier protests against three contentious farm laws of the Centre, which have since been repealed.
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, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader said.
”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 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.
”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.
Asserting that the problem of air pollution cannot be resolved through politics, the AAP leader said, ”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.
”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.
The Delhi government issued a notice on Tuesday to stop work at the BJP headquarters here and imposed a fine of Rs 5 lakh on private firm Larsen & Toubro Limited for violating the ban imposed on construction and demolition work in view of the city’s worsening air quality.
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.
Rai said paddy is grown over 60 lakh acres of land in Punjab and stubble burning in the state aggravates the air pollution problem in Delhi.
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 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 1,842 farm fires in Punjab on Tuesday and 2,131 on Monday — the highest so far this season.
The agrarian state recorded 17,846 farm fires between September 15, when stubble burning usually begins, and November 1. Of these, 12,229 were recorded in the last eight days.
The CAQM — a statutory body formed in 2021 to tackle air pollution in Delhi-NCR — last week said the increased incidents of stubble burning in Punjab this year are a ”matter of serious concern”.
According to an analysis by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee, people in the capital breathe the worst air between November 1 and November 15, when stubble burning usually peaks.