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Politics behind the smog: Stubble burning caught in political crossfire

Doublespeak : AAP blames Punjab for smog in Delhi but supports farmers burning stubble.

punjab Updated: Nov 09, 2017 13:57 IST
Vishal Rambani
Vishal Rambani
Hindustan Times, Patiala
Smog,Punjab,Stubble burning
Students of a school wearing mask to protect themselves from pollution in Rohtak on Wednesday. (Manoj Dhaka/HT)

There’s politics behind the smog. The paddy crop, alien to Punjab before the Green Revolution, has become a political problem today. The disposal of its residue or stubble by burning to clear fields for the next crop is a major reason for the toxic haze hanging over the region for the past three days. While the Punjab and Haryana governments have drawn flak from the National Green Tribunal for failing to enforce the ban on stubble burning, it’s clear that the leaders of both states lack political will to tackle the problem.

The Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) started its much-publicised drive against crop residue burning in right earnest as soon as harvesting started in September-end. But on October 8, 10 days before Diwali, the campaign came a cropper with political leaders, including chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh, assuring farmers that no case would be registered against defaulters.

Ironically, while Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has sought a meeting with his Punjab and Haryana counterparts to discuss the problem, his party’s Punjab unit leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira himself burnt paddy straw in Ludhiana to support the farmers.

The reason for this doublespeak on paddy straw burning is simple: Farmers constitute an influential and volatile votebank in both Punjab and Haryana, and no party wants to offend them.

PPCB chairman Kahan Singh Pannu insists that farmers stubble burning has receded this year and more than 2,300 farmers have been penalised as compared to 1,755 last year.

Despite the tough talk on the issue both state governments have soft-pedalled on enforcement of the ban on the ground. Illustrating the lax implementation is the fact that in Punjab only 53 FIRs were registered till October 21 this year against 255 cases last year.

The story is no different in Haryana where 1,138 cases of stubble burning have been registered so far this year as against 1,800 in the last paddy harvest season.

The Punjab government claims that field fires are down by 30% this year as compared to last year. The official data says 38,016 cases of stubble burning were reported this year, 19,000 less than last year.

A spike in the number of paddy stubble burning cases was noticed after Capt Amarinder said on October 8 that the “government won’t take punitive action against farmers, as there is no solution for handling such large quantity of straw”. Not to be left behind, the Akalis also lent their support to the farmers who say they had no viable solution to deal with the crop residue except burning it.

PPCB chairman Kahan Singh Pannu insists that farmers stubble burning has receded this year and more than 2,300 farmers have been penalised as compared to 1,755 last year. Then why does the smog hang thick over the region?

PPCB engineer Pawan Garg says, “The early onset of winter has led to a drop in temperature and so the smog is not clearing. Only rain or high speed wind can clear it.” He argues that Punjab can’t be blamed for the smog in Delhi as its cities of Amritsar and Ludhiana have cleaner air than that of the national capital.

(With inputs by Rajesh Moudgil in Chandigarh)

First Published: Nov 09, 2017 10:47 IST