Wednesday, 10 August, 2022
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I can engage with Kejriwal if he offers funds to compensate farmers: Amarinder Singh

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Punjab CM says stubble burning can’t be solved just by two states unless the Centre steps in; stresses need for reuse of crop residue.

The issue of crop stubble burning by Punjab farmers leading to an air pollution crisis in the national capital has been caught in a political crossfire. Punjab chief minister Capt. Amarinder Singh, who refused to meet his Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal to discuss ways of tackling the problem, claims such a meeting makes no sense unless the Centre is also involved. Excerpts from an exclusive interview with Associate editor Chitleen K. Sethi:

Are you ready to meet Arvind Kejriwal and seek funds from the Delhi government to compensate farmers in Punjab?

You tell me, what is the point of meeting him, when the solution to the current crisis does not lie in his or my hands? A meeting between just the two of us makes no sense to me, unless it is facilitated by the Centre and involves the CMs of other states.

The only point on which I can think of engaging with Kejriwal is the financial aid, which he has indicated he may be willing to provide for Punjab to deal with the problem of stubble burning. He has enquired about the cost involved in providing the farmers with an alternative, and if he is willing to foot the bill, then maybe there is something to discuss.

Do you think your statements about the government’s inability to stop the farmers from stubble burning till they are compensated encouraged them?

Look, it is not a question of encouraging them. What they are doing is out of sheer desperation. At stake is their very survival. So do you think they really need any encouragement to do something which can make a difference between life and death for them?

Stopping them from resorting to stubble burning is not a one-day affair; it requires persistent and long-drawn awareness campaigns, which my government has already started working on. At the same time, we need to work out permanent solutions, in the form of viable alternatives. And that, again, will take time, although we are already working on several research projects to find affordable solutions.

Do you think that once the farmer is compensated in monetary terms, he will stop burning stubble?

Let me again make it clear. The compensation we are seeking is a temporary solution, for immediate redressal of the prevailing crisis. In the long-term, the solution lies in innovative ways and technologies to manage stubble, backed by crop diversification to bring the farmers out of the paddy-wheat cycle, which lies at the core of the problem.

But Punjab farmers are being blamed for creating deadly polluting smog, especially in Delhi.

One cannot really blame the farmers for something they have been doing for years and for which governments, both at the Centre and states, failed to provide them with a viable solution. The exigencies of farming are such that the farmers have to get rid of the crop residue before they can make their fields ready for the next sowing season. With Punjab producing a record quantity of paddy, the quantum of stubble is also, naturally, huge, thus aggravating the problem.

What makes the issue complex is the pollution has already been there in various cities due to factors such as traffic and industry. So to blame the Punjab farmers alone is to take a myopic view of the problem.

You have been writing to the Centre for funds to compensate farmers. Have you received any reply?

Unfortunately, I have not received any reply to my missives. But I have been assured that the Centre is cognisant of the problem and is mulling ways and means of addressing the same.

You have also asked the Prime Minister to call a joint meeting of the affected states. Has there been any response to that?

This was just two days ago so I am still waiting for a response. My objective in seeking a joint meeting is to explore permanent solutions to the whole issue of pollution, of which, as mentioned, stubble burning is just a small and seasonal component.

Is the state government looking for innovative solutions as well?

Of course; we are in the process of putting up two demonstration units of 2 TPH (tonnes per hour) capacity each to establish commercial viability of eliminating paddy straw. In addition, the department of animal husbandry has proposed to use paddy straw as cattle fodder in gaushalas.

We are also looking at ways of converting paddy straw into biochar, for phosphor-compost production. Further, to promote research, we have set up a ‘Paddy Straw Management Challenge Fund for Innovation’. I have also been discussing the issue with other countries, including Japan, and urging them to come up with innovative solutions to the problem.

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