Gave Punjab all help to cut stubble burning, AAP didn’t act, says Union minister Bhupender Yadav

Gave Punjab all help to cut stubble burning, AAP didn’t act, says Union minister Bhupender Yadav

Yadav said farm fires dipped by 30% in Haryana compared to last year, adding AAP govts in Delhi & Punjab didn't attend meets called by central govt to discuss air pollution levels.

Union minister Bhupender Yadav | ANI file photo

Union minister Bhupender Yadav | ANI file photo

New Delhi: Union environment minister Bhupender Yadav has responded to claims by Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann that lack of support from the Union government led to instances of stubble burning in Punjab and, in turn, ‘severe’ air pollution levels in Delhi.

Citing data, Yadav said Punjab accounted for over 90 per cent of farm fires reported this year in states bordering Delhi.

In an interview with ThePrint, Yadav said that despite the Union government extending all possible help, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Punjab was indulging in politics instead of making any progress in curbing farm fires, which contribute to pollution in the NCR. 

While lauding Haryana and Uttar Pradesh for their efforts to combat air pollution, Yadav dismissed the charge that the central government was treating the issue as a political one. The same yardstick was followed for all states, he said, adding that worsening air quality in Delhi-NCR was a result of the failure of the Punjab government to curb instances of farm fires. 

Last week, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused Kejriwal of not doing enough to contain pollution levels and demanded the closure of Delhi’s schools. Kejriwal responded by asking for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s resignation, accusing him of neglecting the pollution crisis.

“Despite a very successful field experience with the application of bio-decomposer for in-situ management of stubble in the state of Uttar Pradesh and also in Delhi, no efforts were made in Punjab for employing this effective technique for management of stubble. Even the CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiative by a private organisation for bio-decomposer application was not facilitated in Punjab,” claimed Yadav.

Also Read: ‘No other option’ — as its fields turn black & skies smoky, why Punjab won’t stop burning stubble

‘Haryana & UP delivering, unlike Punjab’ 

On AAP’s claim that Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are being let off the hook despite witnessing instances of stubble burning, he said data shows that there has been a reduction in farm fires in the two BJP-ruled states. A total of 2,249 farm fires were recorded in Haryana between 15 September and 2 November this year, compared to 3,241 incidents in the same period last year, a reduction of about 31 per cent, he pointed out.

“We strictly follow the mantra of compliance for all, and both Haryana and UP have been delivering, unlike Punjab,” he told ThePrint.

He added, “During the current paddy harvesting season 2022, cumulative (farm) fire counts owing to paddy stubble burning for the period between 15 September and 4 November in Punjab stood at 26,583, 2,440 for Haryana, 36 for UP (NCR), nine for Delhi and one for Rajasthan (NCR).”

Comparing states’ efforts to contain stubble burning, he said, unlike Punjab, “under similar circumstances, Haryana has been able to substantially bring down farm fires in 2022 through effective utilisation of available machinery, expanding the bio-decomposer application, and facilitating and enhancing the use of paddy straw for various ex-situ applications”. 

“In NCR districts of UP, too, there has been a reduction in farm fires from 55 in 2021 to 34 in 2022 during the said period. This is indicative that if there is a will and commitment to systematically working towards prevention and control of paddy stubble burning, results would be evident on the ground in terms of reduced instances of open burning,” he added. 

‘What were they doing these past 6 months?’

Referring to Kejriwal’s remarks that his government will need another year to bring down air pollution levels in Delhi below the ‘severe’ category, Yadav had one question: “What were they doing for the past six months?”

Kejriwal is urging the central government to deliberate on the issue but “they have not been attending meetings” called in the past, he alleged.

“Several meetings, conferences (invites), and alerts have been sent to the AAP governments but they have been declining them. They did not even participate in the environment conference that took place in Kevadia (in Gujarat) in September which was attended by all environment ministers. They have not even been attending virtual meetings,” said Yadav.

The central government, he said, has been regularly following up with the Punjab government to sensitise the state administration about preparedness to prevent and control incidents of stubble burning. This correspondence started in February itself, well before the paddy sowing season, he added.

“Despite a collaborative approach and hand-holding by the central government, the Punjab government has not been able to effect the desired results, and instances of stubble burning this year have even surpassed the count in 2021 in the corresponding period. Punjab has contributed to more than 90 per cent of the cumulative farm fires witnessed in the current year in Punjab, Haryana, UP (NCR), Delhi and Rajasthan (NCR),” said Yadav.

Yadav added that the Punjab government made “no efforts” to employ PUSA bio-decomposer, which the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) advised states to use for “supplementing efforts for in-situ management of paddy stubble”, despite successful field experiences in UP and Delhi. 

Adding, “While about 5 lakh acres has been planned for by Haryana, and 1.4 lakh acres in NCR districts of UP this season, no efforts were made in Punjab for employing this effective technique for management of stubble.”

Explaining how stubble burning adversely impacts the overall air quality in NCR and adjoining areas, including the areas where these farm fires originate, Yadav said that the “episodic rise in stubble burning incidents currently being witnessed in Punjab is impacting Delhi’s overall AQI (air quality index) to varying levels on a day-to-day basis with the maximum contribution of stubble burning touching about 30 per cent.”

Even the Punjab government’s IEC (information, education & communication) activities and campaigns seem to be ineffective, he said, adding that “ineffective monitoring and enforcement at the field level is also evident despite more than 8,000 nodal officers reported to be deployed for the purpose by the state government.”

Highlighting efforts made to help Punjab, Yadav said the Union government, through its CRM (crop-residue management) scheme, has allocated Rs 1,347 crore to the state over the last five financial years, including the current fiscal year. 

“Wide range of farm machinery to facilitate in-situ and ex-situ management of paddy stubble has been procured by Punjab through allocations made under the scheme. Including additional procurement in the current year, a total of more than 1,20,000 machines are available in the state. More than 13,900 custom hiring centres (CHC) have been established in the state to facilitate farm machinery for in-situ and ex-situ farm applications under the CRM scheme,” he said.

“The utilisation of the available machinery has, however, been far from satisfactory and heavy idling of machines has been a big drain on the resources,” Yadav claimed. 

Countering the AAP’s charge that the BJP-ruled central government is “anti-farmer”, he said it already provides a “heavy subsidy for procurement of crop residue machinery” under the agriculture ministry’s CRM scheme.

“Further, the respective state governments have various schemes for facilitating or incentivising farmers to adopt sustainable agricultural residue management practices and not burn stubble,” Yadav told ThePrint.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

Also Read: This village in Jalandhar is 100% stubble burning free & setting an example for all of Punjab