India's efforts to reduce crop-waste burning, a major source of air pollution during the winter, by spending billions of rupees over the past four years have done little to avert a sharp deterioration in air quality.
Stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana states, part of the farm belt that borders the capital, New Delhi, accounts for 30-40 per cent of air pollution in October and November, according to air-quality monitoring agency SAFAR.
In 2018, Narendra Modi's administration set out to tackle the problem by establishing a fund to help farmers get rid of rice paddy straw, left by mechanised harvesters, by using machines.
It has taken Rs 22.49 billion ($302 million) and four years but the plan aimed at stopping farmers torching their crop waste has failed to have any measurable impact on air quality.
In the Karnal district of Haryana, dozens of farmers from 12 villages told Reuters that the authorities' failure to iron out glitches in the plan and the prohibitive prices of the equipment had made it difficult for them to either buy or hire it.
Last month, growers from three villages — Raipur Jattan, Shahjahanpur and Gagsina — pooled their money to buy one set of the machines but soon found it was insufficient to handle a combined 9,000 acres of farmland spread across the villages. "The machines can barely cover 200 to 300 acres in 20 days," said farmer Rakesh Singh.