NEW DELHI: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Punjab counterpart Bhagwant Mann on Friday admitted responsibility for paddy straw (Parali) burning in the border state and promised to curb the practice by next winter amid alarming levels of air pollution in the national capital.
Kejriwal said air pollution in the winters was not a “Delhi-specific problem”, adding that it affected entire northern India and that there should be no blame game and politics on the issue.
He also urged the Centre to take steps to prevent Parali burning, adding it was wrong to hold farmers alone responsible.
Thick smog blanketed Delhi as the city’s air quality remained in the ‘severe’ category for the second consecutive day, primarily due to unfavourable meteorological conditions and raging farm fires in Punjab.
The overall air quality index (AQI) of Delhi stood at 445 at 2 pm. An AQI of above 400 is considered ‘severe’ which can affect healthy people and seriously impact those with existing illnesses.
“We (AAP) have our government in Punjab and we are responsible if Parali is being burnt there. We accept the responsibility for Parali burning in Punjab.
“We admit Parali is being put on fire in Punjab but farmers are not responsible for it. The farmers need a solution, they will stop burning Parali the day they have a solution,” Kejriwal said in a joint press conference with Mann.
Mann said the AAP government in Punjab had just a few months to address the problem. He promised the issue would be brought under control by next November.
Kejriwal said it was not a problem for Delhi alone and the entire north India was suffering from pollution. He claimed the air quality in many cities in Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar was in the ‘severe’ or ‘very poor’ category.
“Evidently, AAP or Kejriwal or (AAP) governments in Delhi and Punjab are not merely responsible for this. There are several reasons, including local and regional ones,” he said.
Kejriwal also urged the Centre to come forward and take specific steps to save north India from pollution.
“We have governments in Punjab and Delhi. This is not the time for pointing fingers, blame games or name calling. It’s not the time for politics over such a sensitive issue. It does not produce any solution and people need solutions,” the Delhi chief minister said.
“The pollution level is high in many cities in Bihar for which Parali burning cannot be responsible,” he said. “Several things, including joint meetings of chief ministers and employing experts for their opinion are needed to address the issue.”
Kejriwal said several specific and stringent steps would be taken with Punjab farmers.
“But we do not want any blame game in this. If Parali is burning in Punjab, we are responsible for it and our government is responsible for it,” he said.
However, just holding Kejriwal alone responsible for everything and abusing him will not solve the country’s pollution problem. It will only happen with a constructive approach and by working together, he added.
“The AAP government in Punjab got just six months to address the problem of Parali burning. We need one more year to solve the problem. We will do everything, including management of Parali and crop diversification, to ensure considerable reduction in incidences of Parali burning,” he said.
Mann said the farmers in Punjab did not want to burn Parali as it also affected them and their children.
There are 10-12 days between harvesting the paddy crop and sowing the wheat crop and the farmers just have matchsticks, said the Punjab chief minister.
He added that the Punjab government had deployed 1.20 lakh machines to bury stubble in the fields and an app was developed for farmers to fetch these.
“Still, if Parali is burning in Punjab, we accept responsibility for it. We are not running from the responsibility. It should be kept in mind that if there is record paddy crop then the Parali burning records will also break,” he said, referring to bumper paddy crops in the northern states.
Despite having a short time available to act, the Punjab government set up India’s first bioenergy plant with a capacity to use Parali from 47,000 acres, he said.
Paddy is sown on 75 lakh acres in Punjab. Scores of such plants will be needed to convert Parali into electricity and compressed natural gas, he added.
“The fields in Punjab are very fertile and we will promote crop diversification. We are working to curb Parali burning. Currently, Parali is burnt on 40 lakh acres under paddy crop and we will try to dissuade farmers from it and encourage them to sow other crops,” Mann said.
Mann also urged the Centre to sit with the northern states to solve the problem.
“I assure and take responsibility as Punjab chief minister to find a solution,” he said.
Mann added that the Punjab government had sent two proposals to the Centre. One was for Punjab and Delhi to contribute Rs 500 each and Centre to provide Rs 1,500 to compensate every farmer for not burning Parali.
The Centre, however, rejected it, Mann said.
The other proposal was to set up Parali processing plants to produce electricity and biogas but the Centre is yet to grant permission, he added.
He also added that lodging cases against farmers for burning Parali was not a solution.