With AAP in charge, can Kejriwal now address Punjab’s stubble problem and clear the air for Delhi?

With 92 of the total 117 seats in the state assembly, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has made a grand debut in its first political innings in a state outside Delhi. The historic mandate given by Punjab’s three crore population also gives AAP a unique opportunity to tackle some of the challenges plaguing its government in the national capital.

Now all eyes will be on being the party convener and Chief Minister of Delhi for three times. Arvind Kejriwal Those who have been continuously blaming the government of neighboring states for the dangerous air quality of the city in winter. Every October, when hazy skies turn gray in the national capital, the chief minister of Delhi takes a jibe at his counterparts in Punjab and Haryana for “doing nothing” to stop farmers from burning stubble. The latter, in turn, blames the Delhi government for “its failure to address vehicular pollution”, which contributes at least 40 per cent to the total problem.

Ahead of last month’s assembly elections, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) also accused Kejriwal of “defaming the farmers of Punjab” for Delhi’s polluted air. The Delhi CM has in the past with former Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh blaming each other on the issue. With the reins of both Punjab and Delhi now in the hands of the Kejriwal-led party, it will be interesting to see if the new government can prevent this winter from turning into the same old political struggle. With a record majority in the assembly, AAP now has the full mandate to implement its much-hyped scheme of bio-degradability for farmers.

,AAP Now is a great opportunity to organize things. We will have to wait and see how well they face this challenge. At least, he has to refrain from making some statements now,” said policy expert Devinder Sharma. “Punjab has been the seat of the Green Revolution in India but has landed in an environmental mess. Now this is an opportunity for the party to take the state back on the path of ‘Evergreen Revolution’ and make agriculture sustainable and economically viable for the generations to come.

Although Delhi grapples with very poor air quality levels throughout the year, ambient PM2.5 concentrations rise, particularly in October-November, the peak season for harvesting paddy, when abundant amounts are used by farmers to prepare for the next cycle. Crop residue is burnt. Punjab alone produces an estimated 20 million tonnes of paddy straw every year. Despite the ban imposed by the National Green Tribunal, the practice of stubble burning continues unabated, as farmers and the government face off over a cost-effective alternative. According to the central government, burning of crop waste accounts for about 10 percent of the deteriorating air quality in Delhi.

“Though not the main contributor, farmers in Punjab have a significant stake in the issue, at least for a very short period of time when winter sets in and harvesting begins. But, there are other major contributing factors as well. Nonetheless, the party now has much more leverage to address the ecological crisis facing the region. Especially Punjab. Be it any indicator—depletion of groundwater, pesticide use, river pollution—Punjab is struggling in all,” said Chandra Bhushan, founder-CEO of Delhi-based International Forum for Environment, Sustainability and Technology (iFOREST).

According to policy experts, the problem of stubble burning can also be tackled if farmers are given additional resources for waste management. In the past too, a demand has been raised to provide Rs 200 per quintal of paddy to the farmers. But, for this, the government will also have to take stock of the fiscal policy of the state.

“The crisis in agriculture is deep. Dr. Sukhpal Singh, Principal Economist, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana said that AAP has to keep this in mind when it starts addressing the issues related to farmers. “Every farmer family has a debt of around Rs 10 lakh. The youth was no longer interested in agriculture. There are no jobs, and small and medium industries are shutting down. Young people are either going back to drugs or migrating abroad. People have put their trust in you just because this is not any other traditional party. But, the new government will have to take some bold steps to keep their trust and fix the state’s fiscal policy first.

With his ten-point agenda, Kejriwal may have won the mandate, but fulfilling the promises will be an uphill task. Nominated CM of the party Bhagwant Mann Pledge to bring back the youth of Punjab to their motherland and provide many job opportunities. The party has also promised to provide better facilities on the lines of Delhi, better government schools and 16,000 mohalla clinics in villages and a stronger public health system with “no additional taxes”.

But promises, as many say, are a double-edged sword. In AAP’s case, the stakes are high as Punjab could set the tone for its future political course at the national level. But it remains to be seen whether Arvind Kejriwal, the two-time chief minister of Delhi, now plans to address the city’s chronic pollution problem while keeping the faith of farmers in Punjab intact.

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