Delhi air pollution: Arvind Kejriwal seeks meeting with CMs of Haryana, Punjab

Amarinder Singh Gill and Arun Jaitley

Punjab government has not utilised funds to the tune of Rs 97.58 crore allocated by the agriculture ministry for 2016 and 2017 for crop residue management, according to government data.

In view of the seriousness of the problem, the ministry directed the four states to facilitate residue management machines and equipment through Custom Hiring Centres or village level Farm Machinery Banks.

"There is 20 million tonne of paddy straw, where do I ask farmers to store?" Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh told HT over phone.

He urged the Centre to "rise to the occasion" and "come to the rescue" of the farmers with financial aid to compensate for stubble management.

"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, almost echoing Singh's concerns. "Let us act fast to counter it", the tweet said.

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"We have imposed a ban on stubble burning in Punjab (Pakistan) & hope @capt_amarinder takes similar measures", it tweeted, adding that environmental hazards threatened our people and habitat and that there was need to act fast to counter it.

"Farmers in Punjab are dying or are committing suicide because of colossal debt". Farmers are an important political constituency for all parties and in the midst of an agrarian crisis.

Responding to Kejriwal's letter, Amarinder ruled out a meeting, saying any discussion among the chief ministers would serve no meaningful objective because only the Centre was equipped to address this grave issue with inter-state implications. He sought a compensatory allowance of Rs 100 per quintal of paddy as incentive for farmers to manage the crop residue scientifically. "The farmer needs to be supported, not punished", said agriculture expert Devinder Sharma.

"However, what is probably not being understood in proper perspective is that a problem, which is essentially scientific and economic can not be tackled through other means, including coercion", he said. "When the winds blow away the smoke, they will stop talking about it".