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Punjab

Posted at: Oct 7, 2018, 1:39 AM; last updated: Oct 7, 2018, 9:11 PM (IST)CONSTRAINTS

Farmers won’t stop burning straw, but govt on the job

Cite high cost of machinery, short window between harvesting of paddy and planting of wheat
Farmers won’t stop burning straw, but govt on the job
Farmers say the easiest way to prepare fields for the next crop is to burn stubble. PTI

Ruchika M Khanna
Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, October 6

Amid efforts by the Punjab government to curb stubble-burning, farmers have threatened to continue with setting paddy straw afire in their fields. Unable to afford the high cost of machinery and with a very short window between the harvesting of paddy and planting of wheat, farmers say that the easiest and fastest way to prepare the fields for the next crop is to burn paddy stubble.

However, the state government, which is monitoring the programme against stubble-burning, is confident that there will be minimal such incidents in the state. As many as 13,100 machines (super stubble management system, happy seeders, rotavators, ploughs, shrub cutters, mulchers) have already been supplied to farmers, cooperative societies and community hiring centres.

KS Pannu, Secretary, Agriculture, said the machines were being delivered daily, adding that the total number required (25,295) would be provided by October 20.

“This is in addition to the machines that were supplied last year. A majority of the machines (7,062) have been bought by individual farmers,” he said.

Pannu said he was hopeful of negligible fire incidents this year because of availability of machinery; a major awareness campaign being launched by the government and Punjab Agricultural University; and a more holistic approach to shift to compressed biogas as an alternative fuel, to be generated from paddy straw. “We, however, will not take coercive action against farmers,” he added.

Though paddy harvesting has not yet begun, figures available from the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) and the Punjab Remote Sensing Centre reveal that 125 incidents of stubble-burning have been reported so far this season, including 96 in Amritsar.

Krunesh Garg, Chief Environmental Engineer, PPCB, said the incidents reported so far were much less compared to last year. “As per the directions of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), environmental compensation (fine) ranging from Rs 2,500 (for one incident by marginal farmer) to Rs 15,000 (on those having more than 5 acres) was being imposed on those who defied the orders on stubble-burning. We have imposed environmental costs on 23 farmers so far this year,” he said.

The fewer incidents of stubble-burning than last year seem to be more due to a delay in harvesting of paddy. Because of late rains, harvesting has been delayed by a fortnight and is likely to begin in earnest only around mid-October. Since harvesting would end around November 15 and wheat has to be sown before November 22, the farmers would get just a seven-day window to clear the fields. This is likely to lead to farmers burning straw rather than going in for time-consuming in situ management. High capital expenditure on buying equipment and its limited use is a major factor behind farmers rejecting the programme. They have also threatened to move court against the “partial” implementation of the NGT orders on paddy straw management.

Balbir Singh Rajewal, president of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU Rajewal), said the NGT had ordered that equipment for in situ paddy management to farmers having less than two-acre landholding be provided free, to those having 2-5 acres for Rs 5,000, and to farmers having over 5 acres for Rs 15,000. “However, the government wants debt-ridden farmers to spend thousands of rupees on buying equipment, which is to be used for just 15 days in a year. Over 1,000 farmer suicides have been reported in Punjab this year because of high indebtedness. Is it fair to burden them with buying more equipment? It is against this ill-conceived policy that I am moving court,” he said.

Farmers complain that ever since the stubble management programme was announced, prices of machines such as rotavators have shot up by over 50 per cent (from Rs 85,000 to Rs 1.3 lakh). The subsidy given to buy these is 50 per cent.

Many farmers are also questioning the in situ management of paddy straw. Gurdial Singh, a progressive farmer from Doraha, said this exercise would lead to all microbes being buried in the soil and most likely attack the next crop. This will bring more termites and rodents into the fields, which would affect the yield, he added.

‘Haryana, UP to blame for Delhi smog’

Sharing the data of air quality index (AQI) in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, Krunesh Garg, Chief Environmental Engineer, said the smog engulfing Delhi was because of straw-burning in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, not Punjab. “The AQI in Punjab ranges from 55 (Ludhiana) to 92 (Amritsar) – which is in the satisfactory quality zone. In Delhi, it is 256 (poor), Gurgaon 336 and Ghaziabad 302 (both very poor). This proves that the Delhi smog since Friday is because of fires or other causes of pollution in NCR,” he said.

Stubble-burning cases reported till Oct 6

Amritsar 96

Patiala 6

Tarn Taran 4

Ferozepur 4

Hoshiarpur 4

Bathinda 3

Gurdaspur 2

Mohali 2

Sangrur 2

Fazilka 1

Nawanshahr 1

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