Rajat Sharma

Why is Delhi choking? Kejriwal must answer

AKBOn Wednesday (November 2) morning, the Qir Quality Index (AQI) in Delhi ranged from 360(Very Poor) to 481 (Severe Plus) as almost the entire National Capital Region was covered in a layer of haze. The national capital in the morning appeared to be a ‘gas chamber’, as reports came of an alarming 33.5 per cent rise in stubble burning incidents (13,873) in Punjab.

With the air quality worsening, Delhi government has directed closure of all construction and demolition activities in the capital, till further orders. Already, GRAP (Graded Response Action Plan) Stage 3 (severe air quality) has been put into action. Gurugram, Noida, Faridabad and other satellite towns in NCR are facing a severe dip in air quality. The number of people suffering from cold, cough and breathing issues is on the rise in Delhi NCR. Doctors have advised people to remain indoors when there is a haze in the morning. Early morning motorists drove their vehicles with the headlights on due to low visibility.

Nearly 20 days ago, on October 10, Delhi’s air was clean and the average AQI was only 44. What happened in these three weeks that the clean air vanished and the people of NCR are choking? It was being claimed by ministers and officials in Delhi that work was going on a war footing to protect Delhi from air pollution. Claims were made about a chemical being prepared which will mix the paddy stubble with the soil and there will be no need to burn them.

The Centre had, through its Crop Residue Management scheme, made Rs 1347 crore available to Punjab government in the last five financial years, including the current year. Under this scheme, farm machinery was to be made available for management of paddy stubble in Punjab. More than 1.2 lakh machines were made available in Punjab, and yet the number of stubble burning cases rose. More than 13,900 custom hiring centres were set up in Punjab to facilitate farm machinery for crop residue management in Punjab, but the use of these machines was very poor, and a large number of machines were allowed to remain idle.

Use of bio-decomposers for managing paddy stubble in western UP and Delhi national capital territory was very successful, but, according to central government, no efforts were made by Punjab government for using this effective technique for disposing paddy stubble. No efforts were made for increasing the use of straw for other applications, and for supply of fodder to fodder-deficient areas from Punjab.

Since early February this year, the Centre had been regularly telling the Punjab government, to sensitize its administrative machinery to prevent farm fire incidents, but no effective action was taken. Meetings were held by the Union Agriculture and Environment ministers with their counterparts in Punjab government, but no action was expeditiously taken.

The Centre has noted serious lapses in implementation of farm fire control laws by the Punjab government and has held the latter solely responsible for the failure, thereby creating a situation where the people of NCR are now breathing highly polluted air, adversely affecting their health.

The question is: Funds were allocated, machines were purchased, but where did these machines go? Why didn’t these machines reach the farmers? Large-scale burning of paddy stubble is going on daily in Punjab.

I asked India TV reporters to go to different districts of Punjab and send ground reports. Sadly, these seems to be no possibility of an improvement in air quality in the near future due to inaction on part of Punjab government. People in National Capital Region will have to breathe air filled with poisonous particles in the coming weeks.

A look at the facts. This year in October, the number of stubble burning cases in Punjab increased by 33.5 per cent. From September 15 till October 28, 10,214 paddy residue burning cases were registered in Punjab. Last year, this number was 7,648 only during the same period.

Nearly 71 per cent farm fires in Punjab have been reported only from seven districts, Amritsar, Sangrur, Firozpur, Gurdaspur, Kapurthala, Patiala and Tarn Taran. These are the traditional ‘hot spot areas’ where paddy stubble is burnt every year. A steep rise of about 69 per cent in farm fires (7,100) was noted in the last seven days, thereby causing a haze in the entire National Capital Region. This is the situation when only 45 to 50 per cent of sown area in Punjab has been harvested.

In neighbouring Haryana, cases of stubble burning has shown a decline of nearly 24.5 per cent. From September 15 to October 28, only 1,701 stubble burning cases were reported in Haryana this year, compared to 2,252 last year. In western UP, the number of far fires declined from 43 last year to 30 this year till now. The Centre has prepared maps of farm fire incidents in the states of Punjab, Haryana and UP (adjoining NCR). The maps clearly show that farm fire incidents have taken place in Punjab on a large scale, causing layer of haze in the National Capital Region.

Why didn’t Punjab government use 1,20,000 stubble management machineries sent by the Centre? When Centre asked Punjab government about this, it hurriedly started sending these machines to the farmers.

When Punjab science, technology and environment minister Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer was asked about stubble burning, he replied: “It is an old problem. It will take time to solve. AAP government is trying its best. Decomposing stubble will take time. Number of stubble burning cases is now low.”

On one hand, the AAP minister in Punjab is saying this, while his party chief Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal is describing decomposers as the best method for managing stubble. India TV reporter met farmers in Delhi and found another type of problem. Several farmers said they made several requests to officials for decomposers, but failed to get them in time. One farmer said, “an official came last year, he got decomposer chemical sprayed on one acre, but, on paper, he should chemical was sprayed on 10 acres of farmland.” Another farmer said, when he went to local officials for decomposer chemical spraying, after harvest, he was told that the time for spraying is now over.

Delhi BJP MLA O.P. Sharma alleged that Kejriwal government spent Rs 7.5 crore on publicity and ads, and in comparison, it spent only Rs 3.5 lakhs on buying decomposer chemical spray.

The only silver lining is from neighbouring Haryana, where stubble burning cases have declined by nearly 25 per cent. Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar adopted a carrot-and-stick method. His officials helped farmers in swiftly disposing paddy stubble, and also fined farmers who burnt stubble in the field.

There is no doubt that the approach of AAP government in Punjab on paddy stubble management was weak, and it lacked decisiveness. Neither the seeder machines reached farmers in time, nor decomposer chemical spray was distributed. In the days to come, more stubble burning incidents will take place in Punjab, and it will surely play havoc with the air quality in NCR. The air that the people of Delhi breather will become lethal.

Had there been a Congress or BJP government in Punjab, Kejriwal would have lost no time in alleging that both these parties hate the people of Delhi. He would have alleged saying these parties want to poison the people of Delhi because they support AAP. But now, Kejriwal’s problem is that his party is in power in both Delhi and Punjab, and he has nobody to pick as target.

On Tuesday, Delhi deputy CM Manish Sisodia came with a new idea. Sisodia said, the major cause of pollution in Delhi is the three large hills of garbage that exist, and disposal of garbage is the responsibility of Municipal Corporation of Delhi, ruled by BJP. In other words, according to him, it is BJP which is responsible for Delhi’s air pollution.

The hard fact is that Kejriwal, during his eight-year-long rule in Delhi, has only mouthed platitudes, but did not take any concrete action. He implemented “Odd Even” rule for vehicles in Delhi, set up smog towers, banned use of firecrackers on Diwali night, stopped work in factories and brick kilns, but all these steps were merely cosmetic.

The people of Delhi are, after all, human beings. They pay taxes. They have the right to life. Why are they being forced to breathe polluted air? What sins have the people of Delhi committed that their age will decline by ten years, if they continue to breathe polluted air? Kejriwal must reply.

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