The National Human Rights Commission on Saturday said that farmers are burning crop stubble “under compulsion”, and that they are doing so due to the failure of state governments.

The commission has taken suo motu cognisance of air pollution in Delhi and the National Capital Region. On November 10, the chief secretaries of Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh gave their responses to the matter.

“The State Governments have to provide harvest machines to get rid of those stubbles but they have failed to provide an adequate number of requisite machines and other measures; as a result, farmers are forced to burn the stubbles, causing pollution,” the commission said in a press release.

The panel asserted that none of the states could blame farmers for carrying out stubble burning. “...Instead, it is due to the failure of all four State Governments that the stubble burning is happening in the States of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, and U.P causing enormous pollutants in the air,” it said.

Air quality deteriorates sharply in the winter months in Delhi, which is often ranked the world’s most polluted capital. Stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana – along with falling temperatures, low wind speed and emissions from industries and coal-fired plants – is a significant contributor to air pollution.

On November 4, the Delhi government closed primary schools and directed 50% of the staff in government offices to work from home after the capital’s air quality index entered the “severe” category. At this level, air pollution can affect healthy persons and seriously impact those with existing illnesses.

The human rights commission has asked the chief secretaries to provide details about assistance given to farmers for disposing of stubble on farms, measures to carry out dust management and the use anti-smog guns.

It has directed the officials to remain present before it either in person or in hybrid mode on November 18. It has also asked them to file specific reports on measures to check air pollution within four days.