Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday asked the Ministry of Agriculture to distribute equipment to farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh on a priority basis to tackle stubble burning. Crop burning is considered one of the main reasons behind the rising level of air pollution in the Delhi-NCR region and other northern states.

This is the first time Modi has directly intervened in the matter. He held a review meeting to discuss air pollution in the northern states.

“On the issue of stubble burning, the Prime Minister directed Agriculture Ministry to give priority to the farmers of the states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana in distribution of equipment to prevent such occurrences,” said a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office. There are agro-machines available in the market that remove farm stubble.

The Punjab Police arrested 84 farmers and registered 174 first information reports on Wednesday for stubble burning, reported the Hindustan Times. The previous day, 196 farmers were booked and 374 cases registered. In Haryana, 265 farmers were booked in Karnal district for stubble burning.

The farmers in Punjab held protest rallies in several places across the state. They alleged that the state government was not fulfilling their demand of Rs 200 per quintal or free machinery to manage stubble. The Supreme Court has ordered Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to pay small and marginal farmers an incentive of Rs 100 per quintal to handle the residue of non-Basmati rice crops.

Modi’s intervention came on a day the Supreme Court castigated the governments of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh for failing to curb stubble burning. The court gave the states seven days to purchase the stubble being burnt by farmers. The court asked Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to formulate a plan to purchase stubble, ensure it is not burnt anymore, and make the entire state administration responsible to combat air pollution.

On Tuesday, the court had summoned the chief secretaries of these states after registering on its own a case related to severe pollution in the region. It said the authorities cannot allow a mass exodus of people from Delhi because of pollution.

Air Quality Index

According to the government-run monitoring agency System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research, or SAFAR, the overall air quality index in Delhi as of 8.30 am on Thursday was recorded at 283, which falls in the “poor” category. The 24-hour average calculated by the Central Pollution Control Board was 244 as of 7 am. The CPCB index is typically lower than that of SAFAR because it averages values for 24 hours, and caps hourly indices at 500 even if they are of a higher value.

SAFAR measures the air quality in real time, based on index values that are recorded at up to nine stations spread across the city and one each in Noida and Gurugram. An AQI between 0 and 50 is considered as “good”, 51-100 is “satisfactory”, 101-200 “moderate”, 201-300 “poor”, 301-400 “very poor” and 401-500 “severe”. A figure above 400 poses a risk for people with respiratory ailments and can affect even those with healthy lungs.

Air pollution in Delhi and surrounding towns plummeted to the season’s worst level last Sunday. On Friday, authorities had declared a public health emergency, and closed schools and banned all construction activities till November 5.

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