PATIALA: Punjab Government has managed to coax the Centre to approve Rs 685 crore worth relief package to fund its relentless campaign against stubble burning, Punjab Health and Family Welfare Minister Brahm Mohindra said at an ASSOCHAM-Reckitt Benckiser joint event held here today.
"Considering the gravity of this issue, Punjab Chief Minister took it up with Union Government and also discussed with the Prime Minister about ill effects of air pollution caused by straw burning in the state which has highest contribution in nation's food bowl," said Mr Mohindra while launching an ASSOCHAM-Reckitt Benckiser awareness program on air pollution in Punjab.
"I feel proud in sharing with you that owing to Punjab Chief Minister's valiant efforts Centre has approved Rs 685 crore relief package so that our farmers do not have to resort to stubble burning," he said.
Terming it as a welcome step and a huge achievement, the Minister lauded the efforts of the Chief Minister and said that he is both the well-wisher and saviour of Punjab and its farmers.
Recalling once how when he went to a local village in his constituency in the evening he saw just smog and pollution all around with people from all age groups coughing and suffering from chest infections.
"I interacted with a group of village elders sitting under a tree and told them that this is why I used to request you for stop burning crop residue and now you can see everyone is coughing around and suffering from chest ailments, thus it is we who are responsible for this problem and it is only we who have to find a solution to improve the situation," he said.
Earlier, in his address at the ASSOCHAM conference, Mr Mohindra said that to combat the problem of paddy burning, the state of Punjab came up with the method of attaching the super straw management system (SMS) to every self-propelled combined harvester.
"The super straw management system will replant the leftover straw into the soil (in-situ), which also has the additional benefit of improving soil's quality, it will help us in two ways of preventing air pollution and improving soil," he added.
He further said that Punjab cabinet has also approved the creation of Directorate of Environment to check air pollution which is also a very positive development.
Talking about the importance of community participation, the Minister called up on various stakeholders viz., government, industry, academia, farmers and others to work together to improve air quality and reduce the burden of diseases caused by pollution.
"I am highly impressed and would congratulate ASSOCHAM for organising an event on issue of such grave importance, they must aggravate their efforts and help the Government in ensuring better air quality and good health for future generations of Punjab," Mr Mohindra said.
Speaking on the occasion, ASSOCHAM's secretary general D S Rawat said that ever rising air pollution levels are taking a toll on India's urban economy and sectors like tourism, hospitality, outdoor recreation and others are worst affected.
"Besides it is also leading to rise in healthcare costs to the government, driving away top executives and talented people to other cities/countries with better air quality, while it may not just hurt the country's ability to attract highly-skilled expatriates but might also severely impact inflow of investments," Mr Rawat said.
"Crop residue burning being one of the prime reasons for growing air pollution in the region, it is the need of the hour to spread awareness about its health hazards and promote alternate solutions through co-operation and networking with peer groups, different agencies, organisations and individuals to improve ambient air quality," he added.
Further elucidating on the ASSOCHAM-Reckitt Benckiser (RB) joint campaign to raise awareness about air pollution in Punjab, Mr Gaurav Jain, SVP AMESA for RB Health, said, "Every year, stubble burning in Punjab adds to an increased level of air pollution in the state and in adjacent states including Delhi-NCR and Haryana.
With air pollution at a global tipping point, we are launching 'Ab Hogi Har Saans Swachh' campaign along with ASSOCHAM Foundation for Corporate Social Responsibility.
"With this campaign we join the Government of Punjab in their incessant initiatives to reduce the menace and induce mass behaviour change by educating and sensitizing farmers to use alternate solutions to manage stubble effectively," Mr Jain said.