Punjab sees increase in farm fires this month

The significant September spike could impact Delhi's winter air pollution

Updated - October 15, 2019 02:04 pm IST

Published - September 27, 2019 02:38 am IST - NEW DELHI

A farmer burning farm residue  near Amritsar.

A farmer burning farm residue near Amritsar.

There has been a spike in agricultural fires — a phenomenon that’s known to worsen air pollution — in Punjab in September, significantly more than in the same month last year.

Krunesh Garg, member-secretary, Punjab Pollution Control Board, said there were 107 fires from September 24-26. In 2018 there were only 11 fires during the same period. However, in 2016 and 2017 there were 106 and 150 fires respectively from September 27-30.

Mr. Garg said last year’s numbers were unusually low because paddy harvesting was delayed due to the persistence of the monsoon. “Last year, the onset of monsoon was late and it persisted well into October. This year, harvesting of basmati varieties of rice has already begun, hence the apparent rise in September,” he said.

Agricultural fires, in which farmers set fire to their fields after harvesting paddy, tend to begin around late September and peak around the last week of October by which time farmers have harvested most of their paddy. There were 80,879 fire incidents detected during the paddy harvesting season in 2016, 43,660 in 2017 and about 40,000 in 2018. “There was a 10% reduction last year from 2017 and we expect around the same reduction this year,” Mr. Garg said.

Punjab’s fires tend to worsen Delhi’s pollution as particulate matter floats into the city, affecting the already polluted winter air.

The Centre and Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh had — over several meetings last year — declared a “zero tolerance” policy on stubble burning by farmers which, according to various studies, contributes anywhere from 17% to 78% to the particulate matter emission load in Delhi during winter.

Last year, the Union Agriculture Ministry earmarked ₹591 crore for disbursal to Punjab, Haryana and U.P. to help farmers access machines that collect or plough the stubble back into the soil.

A senior official in the Union Agriculture Ministry said in spite of subsidies, the implements were “expensive” for the farmers and thus it was cheaper for them to set chaff ablaze.

(With inputs from

Priscilla Jebaraj)

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in

Comments

Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.