As paddy harvesting gains momentum in parts of Punjab, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government’s immediate challenge is to curb stubble burning – which every year causes a spike in air pollution in the northern States, including the national capital.
AAP’s Delhi government over the years has invariably kept blaming successive governments in Punjab for not making sincere efforts to solve the problem of stubble burning. With the party governing both the States now, shifting the blame may not be an option this time around.
While the Bhagwant Singh Mann-led Punjab government has committed to reducing paddy stubble burning incidents by at least 50% this year in its State Action Plan, farmers have made it clear that they would shun the practice only when suitably compensated for the expenses incurred on alternative methods of disposing crop residue. Farmers outfits have cautioned the government against resorting to any stringent action or registration of police cases against farmers for burning crop residue. Paddy crop procurement is set to start on October 1 in Punjab.
The Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) has in recent years been imposing penalties on farmers found involved in burning crop residue, in accordance with a National Green Tribunal order of 2015 banning stubble burning.
“Farmers don’t want to burn the crop residue, but a viable alternative should be provided by the government. We are willing to give the paddy stubble free of cost to the government but it has to make arrangements to clear the fields and take the stubble,” Sukhdev Singh Korikalan, general secretary of Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugrahan), one of the largest farmer unions in Punjab, told The Hindu. “We will not let any farmer suffer due to the inefficiency of the government in solving the problem.”
The short 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 paddy crop is usually done between the second half of September till mid-October. 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 farmers are well aware of the negative effects of burning stubble but most of them have no choice. “Under the crop residue management (CRM) scheme, different machines are being given on subsidy, but small farmers, who are already in financial distress, cannot afford such machines. The present government has been in power for one and a half years now, but it has not come out with any concrete solution. We should get a bonus of at least ₹200 per quintal on paddy to deal with stubble burning,” he said.
Punjab’s farmers face an annual challenge of managing nearly 20 million tonnes of paddy straw. This year, the total area under paddy cultivation is estimated to be about 31 lakh hectares.