Punjab on Tuesday reported the season's highest farm fire count at 6,668, satellite data collected by the state remote-sensing centre showed, triggering fears of upending the gradual improvement in air quality registered over the past two days.
According to the data, Sangrur and Bathinda were the worst-affected districts as farmers continued to defy a ban imposed on stubble burning. The two districts reported the highest number of farm fire incidents of 1,007 and 945 on a single day, respectively.
Miffed at the deterioration in air quality in Delhi over the past few days, largely blamed on rampant stubble burning in neighbouring states during winters, the Supreme Court on Tuesday called the chief secretaries of three states - Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh - to appear in person on Wednesday to report to it on the matter.
While the Delhi government has blamed crop residue burning in neighbouring states for toxic haze over Delhi, the farmers express helplessness at not having any viable alternative to stubble burning. The plumes of smoke emanating from farm fires are carried by the winds blowing in this season to NCR.
However, due to an increased wind speed, the air quality in Delhi has showed improvement over the past two days, after falling into the the highest "sever plus" category on Sunday. The toxic air quality had triggered a public health emergency in Delhi-NCR.
Between September 23 and November 5, Punjab reported 37,935 incidents of farm fires, which was almost 40 per cent higher than stubble burning incidents in the corresponding period last year.
According to the accumulated figure, Sangrur district again topped the chart of number of farm fire incidents at 4,772, followed by Ferozepur at 4,020 and Bathinda at 3,535.
Farmers at several places continue to burn the paddy straw despite a ban. Small growers were of the view that it was economically unviable for them to buy farm machinery like happy seeder, rotavators, super straw management system on combine harvesters etc.
They have been demanding Rs 200 per quintal as bonus on paddy for the management of stubble.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Monday reiterated that the Centre should give financial assistance to farmers to wean them away from burning stubble.