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Budget 2018: Centre earmarks Rs 10 bn for fixing Delhi-NCR's pollution woes

The budgetary allocation aims to subsidise the purchase of machinery by farmers in a bid to curb stubble burning

Bhaswar Kumar  |  New Delhi 

Delhi air pollution
Delhi's smog has created an annually-recurring public health crisis. Photo: Reuters

The severity of Delhi's air pollution woes has earned the issue a place in the Centre's allocations in 2018. According to reports, an amount of Rs 10 billion (1,000 crore) will be allocated under 2018 to combat problems like stubble burning, which has been attributed as a major cause for Delhi's now-notorious air quality.

In an effort to clean up the capital's air, or at least make it more breathable, and end the residents' annual exercise of choking under a blanket of smog, the Centre has decided to earmark Rs 10 billion (1,000 crore) in the upcoming to curb the practice of stubble burning in Delhi's neighbouring states like Punjab and Haryana, the Times of India reported on Thursday.

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How will the Centre put a stop to stubble burning, an issue that proved to be contentious and saw the Delhi and Punjab governments juggle blame last year, and get farmers to find better ways to dispose of agricultural waste? The answer lies in subsidies for said farmers. The national daily reported that Additional Solicitor General A N S Nadkarni informed a Bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta that the Centre would provide subsidies to farmers to purchase machines like Happy Seeder and Rotavators. These machines are meant to help farmers dispose of farm residue without burning it. According to the report, these machines sow wheat into the soil while simultaneously cutting and lifting rice straw. As a result, the stubble remains in the fields without hampering the sowing of a new crop.

According to recommendations, individual farmers who purchase the machines will receive a subsidy of 50 per cent of the purchase price, the report said. The subsidy will be distributed by means of a direct benefit transfer mechanism. Further, a subsidy of 75 per cent of the machinery's cost will be given to cooperative societies, gram panchayats, and farmer groups, the report added.

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Upon being asked by the Bench as to what amount would the Centre spend on such measures, Nadkarni, according to the report, revealed that the total sum would be close to Rs 10 billion (1,000 crore), which would be spent on various schemes to fight air pollution at its source. The report added that Nadkarni informed the Bench that the farmers would receive the machinery by the end of September, before the harvesting of kharif crops.

On Wednesday, the Centre informed the Supreme Court that the report of a sub-committee on preventing the practice of stubble burning in three states -- Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh -- had been submitted and accepted by a high-level task force constituted by it.

As reported earlier, in November last year, a high-level task force for the management of air pollution in Delhi and NCR was constituted by the Cabinet Secretariat. The task force comprised experts and senior officials of various departments.

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The Centre told the apex court that the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change would be the nodal ministry for implementing the report of the sub-committee on stubble burning.

"The report of the sub-committee was discussed by the high-level task force on January 6, 2018, and the report was accepted," Nadkarni said.

Subsequently, the Bench directed the apex court-mandated Environment Pollution Control Authority to look into the report and provide any suggestions or recommendations by January 29. It posted the matter for further hearing on that day.

First Published: Thu, January 25 2018. 11:07 IST