Punjab farmers want to be compensated to stop stubble burning 

They want AAP government to pay for the alternate disposal methods

September 19, 2022 04:16 am | Updated 04:16 am IST - CHANDIGARH

A farmer burns paddy stubble in a farm at a village on the outskirts of Amritsar. File

A farmer burns paddy stubble in a farm at a village on the outskirts of Amritsar. File | Photo Credit: PTI

As the harvesting of paddy (rice) has started in parts of Punjab, the six-month-old incumbent Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government is all set to face the stiff challenge of dealing with the perennial menace of stubble burning, with farmers indicating that they will continue to burn paddy stubble unless government suitably compensates them for the expenses incurred on alternative methods of disposing crop residue.

Close to the autumn season every year, stubble burning remains a contributing factor to pollution in the air, especially across the country’s northern region, and the AAP, which is in power in Delhi has over the years invariably blamed Punjab for its air pollution during the autumn month. This year, however, with AAP governments in both the States, resorting to the blame game may just not be an easy way for the party.

Burning incidents

While the paddy harvesting is yet to pick up in Punjab, so far 14 stubble-burning incidents have been reported. Government data based on satellite imagery show that in the ongoing Kharif season till September 16, as many as 14 cases of farm fires have been reported in districts Amritsar (11) and Tarn Taran (3) of the State.

According to the government data in the year 2021, as many as 71,246 cases of farm fire occurrence were reported in Punjab. In 2020, such cases were 76,590 while in 2019 there were 52,991 such incidents. In 2018, Punjab witnessed 51,766 incidents of stubble fire while in 2017, the farm fire incidents were at 50,845.

Even as the Punjab government is optimistic that the problem of stubble burning would be contained to a considerable extent this season, several farmer unions are up in arms against the government, demanding suitable monetary compensation for the expenses incurred on alternative methods of disposing crop residue. Also, the outfits have cautioned the government against resorting to any stringent action against farmers on burning the crop residue.

Govt. compensation

“The State government should first come out with an alternative and then ask farmers to refrain from burning the crop residue. We are not in favour of stubble burning but then there should be a viable option. It’s not out of choice, but out of compulsion that farmers have to burn the stubble. The Punjab government initially said they are considering giving ₹2,500 per acre to paddy growers suggesting that the Centre will pay ₹1,500 per acre while ₹1,000 per acre will be borne by Punjab and Delhi governments. But the Centre, they say, has not agreed. If the Centre has not agreed then let it be, the AAP governments should pay that amount. The government has been in power for six months now and they were very well aware of the stubble burning issue, but so far no concrete solution could be seen on the ground,” Jagmohan Singh, general secretary of Bhartiya Kisan Union Ekta (Dakaunda) told The Hindu.

“We should be given a bonus of at least ₹100 per quintal on paddy or paid ₹2,500 per acre in connection with the ban on stubble burning,” Mr. Singh said.

Mr. Singh said farmers don’t have any option but to defy the ban on stubble burning. “We won’t allow officials to enter villages while farmers burn the crop residue,” he said. In Punjab, the ban and the action against people burning crop residue are regulated under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981. Farmers of Punjab every year face the challenge of managing nearly 20 million tonnes of paddy straw. It is estimated that over 15 million tonnes of paddy straw is burnt in the open fields to clear the land for sowing wheat or other crops.

Burning procedure

The paddy crop, which is harvested with combine harvester machines leaves behind a stubble on the farm; to destroy this stubble, many farmers find setting the crop residue on fire to be the most ‘effective and cheap’ method as they want to prepare their farm for sowing of the next winter crop. The short time window between paddy harvesting and sowing the wheat crop — just about three weeks — is one of the primary reasons why farmers resort to stubble burning. In Punjab and Haryana, the harvesting of the paddy crop is usually done between the second half of September till early November. The sowing of the wheat crop normally starts in the first week of November and continues for over a month and a half.

Nirbhay Singh, leader of the Kirti Kisan Union said the farming community doesn’t want to pollute the environment in any form. “The long-term solution for the stubble burning problem is to move farmers away from the water-guzzling paddy and promote crop diversification. But farmers will only go for other crops if the governments give an assured price and market for the alternate crops. The newly-elected AAP government, a few months back, urged farmers to grow ‘Moong’ pulse and promised to procure the entire crop. But, what happened on the ground was that farmers sold close to 80% of the total crop to private traders at a throwaway price. How do we trust the government? Not only this, the government announced an incentive of ₹1,500 per acre to farmers going in for the DSR (direct seeding) technique for rice cultivation. But so far the farmers are still waiting for the incentive amount,” he said.

Sarvan Singh Pandher, general secretary of the Punjab unit of Kisan Mazdoor Sangarsh Committee said “We don’t support stubble burning but governments should come out with a long-term solution. If stringent action is taken against farmers for stubble burning then the government will have to face stiff resistance. Most of the agricultural implements of the new scientific methods such as decomposer spray have not been successful. Successive governments have failed to find a solution for the problem and nothing much at least for now is expected from the AAP government,” he said.

On September 16, Agriculture Minister Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal held a meeting with district Agriculture officers to discuss a blueprint to control stubble burning and implementation at the district level.

He said that to control stubble burning concrete steps such as providing agricultural implements on subsidies to farmers, running awareness campaigns and some new scientific methods such as decomposer spray are being adopted to stop stubble burning practice in the State. He also directed the senior officers not to give leave to any officer or employee of the Agriculture Department till November 7.

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