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Punjab

Posted at: Sep 20, 2018, 1:24 AM; last updated: Sep 20, 2018, 1:24 AM (IST)

Brace for poor air, farm fires may continue

Not enough equipment to manage stubble | No respite in sight from smog, say experts
Brace for poor air, farm fires may continue

Ruchika M Khanna

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 19

With paddy harvesting season round the corner, the Punjab government is rushing to address the issue of stubble-burning. But with just 30 per cent of equipment (for mechanised paddy stubble disposal) that it intends to buy this year, clear air over the state may not be possible.

Agriculture experts, government officials and NGOs working to control the paddy stubble-burning believe that though the pollution levels will be reduced than the last year’s, the smog that develops because of paddy straw burning each October, bringing life to a standstill across most parts of North India, may still hang in the atmosphere. The reason is simple: The equipment is still insufficient to remove paddy straw on 30 lakh hectares of area under paddy cultivation in Punjab within 15-20 days, before the farmers have to start planting the wheat.

A total of 220 lakh tonnes of stubble is expected to be produced along with the paddy this year. By their own admission, state Agriculture Department officials admit that with the equipment available now and the use of straw in biomass power production (50 lakh tonnes), only 55-60 per cent of the straw will be scientifically managed, while the remaining will be burnt by the farmers as an easy disposal alternative.

Dr JS Mahal, Dean, College of Agricultural Engineering, Punjab Agricultural University, agreed that though this year 100 per cent of area under paddy cultivation could not be covered, at least the first step to control the menace of burning of straw had been taken. “The government has money in hand, but the equipment manufacturers do not have production capacities to supply these in the quantity and speed required. Though full-scale paddy harvesting will begin around October 7, we are hoping that more machines will be added for use. In the meantime, we are asking farmers to use rotavators and disc harvesters in fields harvested earlier, for disposing of the paddy straw, rather than burning it,” he said.

So far, Punjab has bought 7,337 happy seeders, straw chopper shredder, reversible ploughs, rotavators and super SMS for combines and supplied these to individual farmers, registered cooperative societies and to the newly formed custom hiring centres (CHC). “The target is to buy 24,315 machines this year under the in-situ paddy straw management project within this year (this should be done by the end of September, before the harvesting begins). The Union government has provided a budget to buy 45,000 machines for paddy straw management by the end of next year. However, there was delay in empanelling the equipment suppliers (120 companies were empanelled in August), which has pushed back our targets. But we are hopeful of getting the entire machinery targeted for this year by October end, and by the end of September, 14,000 machines will be available for scientific management of paddy straw. This year, the smog will be much less than the previous years,” said Vishwajit Khanna, Additional Chief Secretary, Development, Punjab.

He added that during the days when paddy straw was to be managed, the government was thinking of imposing some curbs on vehicles that caused excessive pollution.

Umendra Dutt, who runs the Kheti Virasat Manch, an NGO that has been taking up the issue of ecological management of paddy straw, maintained that the equipment was too little to manage the entire scale of paddy straw in the fields. “Technology and machinery alone cannot do wonders. As of now it is not a viable/sustainable option. We are equipping already over mechanised farms with more machinery that has to be used for just 20-25 days in a year,” he said.


CLEAN AIR STILL A DISTANT DREAM

With just 30 per cent of equipment (for mechanised paddy stubble disposal) that the state government  intends to buy this year, clear air over the state may not be possible.

Agriculture experts, government officials and NGOs working to control paddy stubble-burning believe that though the pollution levels will be lesser than the last year’s, the smog that develops because of paddy straw burning each October may still hang in the atmosphere. 

The reason is simple: The equipment is still insufficient to remove paddy straw on 30 lakh hectares of area under paddy cultivation in Punjab within 15-20 days, before the farmers have to start sowing wheat.

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