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Stubble burning continues to stoke fire; Punjab, Delhi and Centre squabble over funds for farmers

Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh demanded about Rs 2,000 crore from the Centre for the management of harvest residue, but the Centre says allocated funds are yet to be used.

india Updated: Nov 10, 2017 23:31 IST
Jatin Gandhi and Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Jatin Gandhi and Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Stubble burning,Pollution,Delhi air pollution
A farmer burns paddy stubble in a field on the outskirts of Jalandhar, Punjab, on November 10, 2017. (AFP Photo)

After days of targeting each other over the problem of paddy stubble burning by farmers, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi and the Congress-run Punjab government on Friday turned to blaming the Centre for not taking the lead in resolving the ecological crisis looming over the national capital.

The Centre hit back by releasing statistics that show that the ministry of agriculture had allocated Rs 97.5 crore to Punjab for 2016-17 and 2017-18 to deal with the problem of straw burning and the funds remained “unutilised”.

Ministry data showed that Haryana had utilised Rs 39 crore of the Rs 45 crore allocated to it this year (there was no allocation in 2016-17) and Rajasthan utilised a third of its Rs 9 crore. Uttar Pradesh was allocated Rs 56.01 crore over two years and has used up nearly 90% of the funds.

“There is 20 million tonne of paddy straw in Punjab. What will farmers do? Where will they store it?” Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh told HT over phone.

Singh has demanded about Rs 2,000 crore from the Centre for the management of the harvest residue and preventing farmers from burning it and causing pollution.

“Farmers have their genuine concerns, the Centre has to step in and play an active role in coordinating between the states,” Delhi minister Gopal Rai said on Friday, nearly echoing Singh’s concerns.

On Thursday, a war of tweets had broken out between Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Punjab counterpart. The AAP is the principal opposition party in Punjab and has supported farmers burning residual stubble left after harvesting paddy.

Stubble burning is illegal and the Punjab government has penalised nearly 2,400 farmers for it, though reluctantly. Farmers are an important political constituency for all parties and in the midst of an agrarian crisis.

The Punjab chief minister insisted that the Centre must call a meeting of all affected states and seek suggestions from them. He sought a compensatory allowance of Rs 100 per quintal of paddy as incentive for farmers to manage the crop residue scientifically.

Experts concur with the view that the Centre needs to chip in to prevent stubble burning. “The farmer needs to be supported, not punished,” said agriculture expert Devinder Sharma. Blaming the three sides for politicking over it and not addressing the problem by planning for it through the year, he said, “This happens every year at this time. When the winds blow away the smoke, they will stop talking about it.”

“A single agency under the Centre should be made responsible for implementing all decisions,” Rai said.

First Published: Nov 10, 2017 23:31 IST