India approves plan to stop farmers burning crop residues

A man walks through a field amidst smog in New Delhi, India, February 7, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India said on Wednesday it would spend 11.52 billion Indian rupees ($177.61 million) over two years on agricultural mechanization to reduce crop residue burning and bring pollution levels down in and around its capital New Delhi.

The cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, approved the plan on Wednesday which aims to stop farmers from burning the crop residues ahead of winter planting.

But the planned expenditure is far less than the amount per year that NITI Aayog, a government policy advisory group, estimated last November was needed to stop farmers from burning the crop waste, Reuters reported last month.

Crop stubble burning caused one-quarter of the air pollution that blanketed Delhi in November, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change told parliament last month.

In November, New Delhi was described as a “gas chamber” by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal after thick smog swathed the city and pollution readings in some places peaked at 500, the most severe level on the government’s air quality index.

The federal government was widely criticized when U.S.-based United Airlines suspended flights to New Delhi because of the pollution. Delhi smog caused Sri Lankan cricket players to vomit on the field during a match in the Indian capital last December.

($1 = 64.8600 Indian rupees)

Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan. Editing by Jane Merriman