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Mechanical harvesting work leading to health problems
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Mahilpur, May 2
Thick clouds of dust as well as smoke billowing out of a harvester and the burning of stubble of paddy and wheat in the fields have been exposing people in Punjab to serious infections of both the respiratory tract and eyes.

“Everyone in our village has some problem with either the eyes or the respiratory tract,” says Joga Singh, a farm worker of a village near here, maintaining that “smoke from the burning of stubble left by a harvester is not as dangerous as the clouds of dust that billow out of threshers.”

“For the past few years, I have been staying away from harvesting work as I face serious breathing problems in the dust. It is choking,” he adds.

Corroborating his views, Tara Singh, a young man and also a farm worker, says that since last year he has been suffering from serious problems of the respiratory tract.

“We must be given either masks or the machines should be so designed that dust is not blown out,” suggests Tara Singh as he and Joga Singh move away before the harvesting of the wheat crop in a nearby field starts.

Although the harvesting operations are nearly over, in many parts of the Doab, visibility has reduced considerably in the evenings. The reason is either the burning of wheat stubble or the harvesting of whatever crop is left in the fields.

“Smoke from the burning of stubble is also dangerous as it contains oily (organic) vapours which not only cause irritation to the eyes but also affect the respiratory tract,” says Dr Jagjit Singh, a physician, claiming that the number of patients with eye and respiratory tract ailments shoots up enormously during the harvesting season. There are some who have become chronic patients, he adds, maintaining that dust is the worst carrier of infection.

A Tribune team that drove through Ropar, Nawanshahr and Hoshiarpur districts found the problem to be common in the rural areas.

Farmers and farm experts admit that the problem is more serious in the case of smaller threshers, which blow out dust at the eye level. In the case of big harvesters, the problem is less severe as these throw up dust at a height.

The government must ensure that each harvester has ISI certification and a dust management mechanism, says Mr Krishan Singh, a teacher in a private school.

Although the Punjab Pollution Control Board has been coming out with advertisements in newspapers advising farmers not to burn wheat stubble in the fields, little awareness has been created about this major pollution problem.

The issue was raised during the Budget session of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha also where the Chairman of the board, Mr Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa had sought the help and cooperation of everyone in tackling the problem caused by the burning of stubble in the fields.

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