Why there is no quick remedy to Delhi's poor air quality

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Why there is no quick remedy to Delhi's poor air quality

Is it the failure of the central government's policy that was meant to veer farmers away from this practice? Is it the failure of the state government in implementing the policy in an effective manner? Or both?

As overall air quality of Delhi and the surrounding areas dipped to the season's lowest last week, a war of words broke out on Twitter between Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh and opposition leader and former Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal on the issue of paddy stubble burning. Stubble burning is one of the primary reasons of air pollution in Delhi and neighboring states every year around winter. While Badal accused the state government of misusing central government funds meant to incentivise stubble burning, Singh stated that the funds were not sufficient to tackle the problem. He added that the funds released were only a small portion of what was committed. The only fact both Singh and Badal agreed to was that despite the central government announcing incentives, and state government doing its bit, there is no respite to the pollution problem caused by the practice of burning paddy stubble by farmers in Delhi's neighbouring states Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in this time of the year.

Is it the failure of the central government's policy that was meant to veer farmers away from this practice? Is it the failure of the state government in implementing the policy in an effective manner? Or both?

It was in March this year that the Narendra Modi government announced a new scheme to support the efforts of the governments of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and NCT of Delhi to address air pollution by subsidizing the purchase of machinery required for in-situ management of crop residue. One component of the scheme talked of providing 80 per cent of the project cost to cooperative societies of the farmers, farmer producer organisations, self help groups, private entrepreneurs, etc., to establish farm machinery banks for custom hiring of in-situ crop residue management machinery. The other part of the scheme was to provide a 50 per cent subsidy on the cost of the machinery/equipment that will be provided to individual farmers for crop residue management. Awareness creation was the third part. Of a total of Rs 1151.80 crore that was sanctioned for the new scheme, Rs. 591.65 crore was for 2018-19 and Rs 560.15 crore for 2019-20.

Singh says that Punjab received Rs 269 crore from the Centre on this account and has already spent Rs 250 crore to provide 25,000 machines, of which 15,367 have actually been delivered. Rest of the machines will be available by the month end, he adds. Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are also known to have issued circulars regarding the scheme and are in the process of implementing it in respective regions.

Delhi's pollution level indicates that despite these measures, farmers have not stopped burning their stubble.

Singh's Twitter messages tell us why. Farmers are not interested in disposing off their paddy crop residue despite the central government sops because they find the sops inadequate. "I've been seeking Rs 100 per quintal as stubble burning compensation for our farmers," Punjab CM says.

The government is also supposed to take stubble burners to task by imposing penalties. With about 20 million tonnes of stubble and straw that gets disposed off after the harvest in these regions around the same period every year, it is easier said than done. The problem in enforcing this rule is the size of the area and the quantum of stubble and straw that gets burned.

It will take several years of concerted efforts of both central and state governments to make farmers adopt new systems and practices. Additional incentives can only speed up those efforts.