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Took steps but need funds — Punjab tells SC, puts stubble-burning ball in Centre’s court

Punjab wants the Centre to provide an incentive of Rs 100 per quintal to farmers for mixing the paddy straw to the soil and stop burning it, lists diversification plan.

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New Delhi: The Punjab government has tossed the ball in the Centre’s court over stubble burning incidents in the state.

In an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court Wednesday, the state enlisted its “sincere efforts” to discourage farmers from burning paddy stubble.

The measures, it added, however, require the Centre’s financial assistance for which the state has “solicited” the apex court’s “indulgence.” The “crucial aspects” that Punjab has flagged for the court’s intervention to reduce, prevent and prohibit burning of crop residue relate to diversification of crops and viability gap funding support of Rs 1,500 crore to set up 300 MW biomass power projects in the state.

Besides, it also wants the Centre to provide an incentive of Rs 100 per quintal to farmers for mixing the paddy straw to the soil and stop burning it. 

“The state government has taken and is taking all the possible steps, such as diversification of crops, in-situ and ex-situ management of crop residue and enforcement measures for the prohibition and control of stubble burning,” the affidavit, accessed by ThePrint, states. “All the concerned departments of the state of Punjab are making sincere and concerted efforts to prohibit and control the cause of stubble burning, but there are financial limitations for which the State is requesting for financial assistance from the central government time and again.” 

Though the document was placed before a bench — led by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana — which was hearing a matter related to Delhi’s poor air quality, the affidavit was not discussed. 

Anguished that the Centre and states once again failed to take urgent concrete steps to improve Delhi’s air quality index, the bench directed Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and Punjab to follow the directives issued by a statutory commission constituted for better coordination, research and resolution of problems on pollution.

Also read: Hue & cry over stubble burning baseless: SC pulls up Centre, states on Delhi pollution

‘Incidents of stubble burning have reduced’

Punjab asserted in its affidavit that the fire incidents have come down to 62,863 in 2021 from 75,442 in 2020. With constant efforts of the state, the stubble burning has reduced drastically in the last one week, it said.

According to the affidavit, on 9 November, 5,079 incidents were reported, but on 15 November, after the court heard the matter, only 1,761 fires took place. 

There was also a decline in the burnt area, which was harvested for paddy crops. The area that was harvested upto 9 November was 28.15 lakh hectares, while the burnt area was 10.34 lakh hectares, which is 36.73 per cent of the land under paddy cultivation.

In 2020, the burnt area was 15.22 lakh hectares, which was 54.92 per cent of 27.71 lakh hectares of land on which paddy was harvested. The total amount of environmental compensation imposed on farmers for farm fires is over Rs 2.62 crore, the state told the top court. 

Punjab government affidavit also carried details of efforts made towards diversification of crops to bring down paddy cultivation. 

It, however, added further diversification would be effective and possible to sustain if the Centre assists the state in the procurement of maize and cotton crop at the minimum support price (MSP) from the farmers. 

It has even sought the Centre’s assistance for diversification of about one million hectares or 10 lakh hectare of area from non-basmati paddy crop to other alternative crops. 

The diversification plan

According to the plan, Punjab wants to increase maize cultivation by another 3.02 lakh hectare from the current 1.09 lakh hectare; cotton area from 2.68 lakh hectare to 6.30 lakh hectare; basmati cultivation from 5.14 to 7.50 lakh hectare. It also wants to bring an additional area of one lakh hectare under fruit, agroforestry and vegetable farming. 

Punjab claimed paddy cultivation in Punjab has come down from 31.49 lakh hectare in 2020 to 29.61 lakh hectare this year. There is also a corresponding decrease in the generation of paddy straw that dropped from 20.05 lakh hectare in 2020 to 18.74 lakh hectare in 2021, the affidavit said. 

Punjab submitted its action plan to prevent stubble burning based on the contours of the framework of the air quality commission. 

More than 8,700 nodal officers have been in contact with village representatives to make them aware of the ill effects of stubble burning and directions of the Supreme Court.

Under the in-site management scheme, the state has provided 76,626 crop residue management machines in the last three years. 

According to the affidavit, in 2021, 10,297 applicants were given a sanction for 31,970 machines, of which 6,208 applicants have purchased 10,024 machines so far, the affidavit submitted. Small and marginal farmers have been provided the machines by cooperative societies, panchayat on a rent-free basis. 

The state has launched the I-Khet app to map these machines and achieve their maximum usage. There is, however, a need for more machines, the state said. Though it has targeted to purchase 70,000, it will be able to buy only 30,000 with the available funds under the central scheme. 

On ex-situ management, the state added it has taken steps to set up power projects for use of paddy straw.

“Paddy straw is being promoted to be used as fuel in boiler furnaces of the industries. Presently, three lakh tonnes of paddy straw is being used as fuel in the boiler furnaces and further a target of five lakh tonnes paddy straw utilisation has been fixed to be achieved in the current year,” it said. 

Punjab has also proposed to set up 300 MW biomass power projects in the state on the build, operate and own basis subject to providing the viability gap funding support of Rs 1,500 crore by the Centre. 

On incorporation of paddy straw in soil, the state claimed it entails an additional expenditure of about Rs 3,000-4,000 per hectare to the farmer, and in order to achieve zero stubble burning for the protection of environment, the state has requested to the Centre to provide cost compensation of Rs 100 per quintal to the farmers, over and above the MSP. It is yet to receive a response from the Union of India, it told the court.

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)

Also read: Why November has brought back Delhi pollution with a vengeance after ‘cleaner’ October


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