Centre, Punjab at odds over stubble burning

Agriculture Minister Tomar cites ICAR data on falling incidents; PCB figure shows a rise in numbers.

November 23, 2019 01:05 am | Updated November 28, 2021 11:11 am IST - CHANDIGARH/NEW DELHI

A farmer burns paddy stubble on a farm in Barnala district of Punjab. File

A farmer burns paddy stubble on a farm in Barnala district of Punjab. File

With paddy harvesting at its fag end in the key grain producing State of Punjab, both the Central and State governments released data on stubble burning on Friday, but with starkly different narratives.

Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told the Rajya Sabha that the events had declined 19% this year, including a 16.8% reduction in Punjab.

2.3% increase

However, Punjab’s Pollution Control Board (PCB) data show an increase of 2.3% in the number of incidents.

The devil is in the detail.

The Centre’s data come from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), which monitors stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh using satellite data and counts the number of incidents from the beginning of October.

According to the ICAR’s latest daily bulletin, Punjab saw 49,787 incidents between October 1 and November 21.

However, the PCB routinely counts stubble burning incidents from September 24, given that paddy harvesting begins in early to mid-September. It recorded 52,154 incidents between September 24 and November 21, compared with 50,970 in the year-earlier period.

Source: VIIRS data, NASA

Source: VIIRS data, NASA


Even over a comparable period, however, the data differ slightly: in November 2019, the Centre’s data show 27,366 incidents, while the State has recorded 30,017 incidents.

Mr. Tomar added that Haryana had recorded a 25.1% reduction in incidents, while Uttar Pradesh had seen a 36.8% drop. He credited the improvement to the ₹1,151.8 crore Centrally funded scheme to distribute stubble management machines to farmers as well as State schemes to compensate farmers who did not burn their fields.

Ban defied

The Punjab government acknowledged that the increase in incidents showed that some farmers continued to defy the ban on burning crop residue and said it was optimistic that the “burnt area” figure would show improvement.

Karunesh Garg, member- secretary of the PCB, told The Hindu that the ground reality about farm-stubble fires would be clearly known in the next 10-15 days, once the final figure of “burnt area” was computed.


“The burnt area figure, which is compiled at the end of the season, gives the actual ground reality about farm fires. Last year, the burnt area had decreased by 9.95% in comparison with 2017,” said Mr. Garg.

“We are optimistic that this year the burnt area will further reduce. It’s a positive development and gradually the problem will subside as awareness increases,” he added.

Last year, an area of 17.8 lakh hectares was burnt, down from 19.78 lakh hectares in 2017.

The burning of crop residue is regulated under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.


This year, Sangrur district saw the highest number of farm fire incidents at 6,661, while Bathinda, with 5,774 such cases, was in the second spot. Firozpur district recorded 4,943 cases.

Punjab’s incidents of stubble fire declined from 84,000 in 2016 to 46,000 in 2017, government data show.

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