Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh today said the alarming pollution level in Delhi and parts of its neighbouring states warranted urgent intervention by the central government, which should immediately sanction compensation for farmers to check stubble burning.
The national capital's air quality was the season's worst yesterday as the combined effect of smoke from stubble burning -- setting fire to straw stubble after a harvest -- and moisture turned the city into what Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal called a "gas chamber".
Over Kejriwal seeking a meeting to discuss the issue, Amarinder Singh said discussion of chief ministers would serve no meaningful purpose, as the Centre alone is equipped to address this issue, which has inter-state implications.
In letters to the chief ministers of Haryana and Punjab, Kejriwal said the governments in the neighbouring states had failed to provide farmers with viable alternatives to stubble burning, a process that leads to air pollution in Delhi.
Amarinder Singh said, "Since multiple states are involved, any meeting without the central government's intervention would be inconsequential."
"Given the gravity of the situation, it is for the central government to rise to the occasion and come to the rescue of the farmers with financial aid to compensate for stubble management," he said.
Singh pointed out that like Delhi, Punjab too was suffering due to air pollution, forcing the closure of schools and other institutions in many districts and change in timings in others.
The situation in Punjab was so serious that a spate of accidents over the past few days due to smog claimed several lives, he said and expressed apprehension that the situation might worsen in "absence of immediate central intervention."
"Delay on part of the Centre to address the problem is costing the northern states heavy," the chief minister said, adding the Narendra Modi government should provide help to the states immediately to resolve the crisis.
In a statement here today, Singh said that he had requested the Centre to provide a bonus of Rs 100 per quintal of paddy over and above the MSP to compensate farmers for additional financial burden arising from stubble management.
"Punjab is helpless in the matter as it could not force or penalise the beleaguered farmers who were trying hard to cope with massive debt and did not have the money to meet the cost of stubble management," the chief minister said.
He, however, said all efforts were being made to spread awareness and encourage the farmers to adopt alternative methods of eliminating the paddy straw.
As submitted before the National Green Tribunal some weeks ago, the Punjab government has provided incentives and infrastructural facilities to some farmers to prevent them from burning paddy residue, Singh said.
"However, in view of the scale of the problem and the financial constraints, the state government is not in a position to intervene more aggressively and has thus been seeking central help to tackle the crisis," he said.
Singh said Punjab was expecting production of 18 million tonnes of paddy this season, leading to the generation of 20 million tonnes of straw.
It is not possible for the state to make arrangements to store the stubble, the chief minister said and stressed on the need for a long-term solution.
The Centre needs to be proactive in this regard and come out with a programme to resolve the issue, he said.