Punjab farmers blame government for farm fires

STORY: Raging farm fires have become a common sight in northern India as farmers burn crop waste to clear their fields and prepare them for the next crop sowing.

Smoke billows out of the fields, wrapping surrounding areas in a thick, grey blanket and stoking a pollution emergency in New Delhi.

But farmers in Punjab, known as India's grain basket, claim they have no other option.

'We burn this out of sheer compulsion. Economically speaking, we have no financial support. If the government wants, they can support us in 60:40. If the government takes some steps, then farmers will also take some steps. A solution can be found to this problem. It is not impossible, it is possible.'

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), in charge of the government in both Delhi and Punjab, said last week it aims to resolve the problem of burning crop stubble by November next year.

Punjab's chief minister says 120,000 machines have been sent to farmers to help destroy the crop residue without having to burn it down, and a bio-energy plant has been set up where crop stubble can be disposed.

But the general secretary of a prominent farmers' union in Punjab explains why more help is needed.

“If the government had given us some cash incentives, like the Supreme court had directed, or the NGT (National Green Tribunal) had directed, then probably (...) the farmers do not want to do this but are doing it out of helplessness because they can't afford any other way. If, instead of burning, the stubble has to be disposed of in any other manner then that involves a lot of expenditure."

Each winter, the smoke from Punjab and Haryana travels eastward and adds to the pollution in New Delhi, causing a surge in respiratory illnesses among the city's 20 million people.

But the farmers here in Punjab say the stubble fires are hurting locals the most.