Kahan Singh Pannu seems to be a man for all seasons & reasons — from finding solution to Punjab’s stubble burning and groundwater problems to exposing scams.
Chandigarh: For IAS officer Kahan Singh Pannu, who is at the forefront of Punjab’s fight against crop residue burning, the smog that engulfs Delhi in October has nothing to do with stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana.
He is, however, clear that what the farmers are doing is wrong.
“It’s understandable but not acceptable,” says Pannu, the nodal officer responsible for managing crop residue, as he travels from one burning field to another, talking to the ‘offending’ farmers.
Paddy is grown on over 74 lakh acres in Punjab, which are expected to generate over 20 million metric tonnes of paddy straw. Farmers in the state set fire to their fields during a 20-day period in October after the paddy is harvested and the fields have to be prepared for the cultivation of wheat.
Also read: Punjab offers million-dollar reward to anyone who can solve stubble-burning problem
Pannu says that the 20-day period is when Punjab becomes a battleground. But rather than blame the farmers, he says the government should look to provide them with solutions to get rid of the crop stubble.
“They (farmers) are not rogues. Yes, we have a provision to book them and we do but it is our duty as the government to offer a solution that is as effective and as quick as burning the paddy stubble,” he says.
The solution, according to Pannu, lies in the in-situ management of leftover straw when paddy has been harvested.
“Other solutions like collecting it and turning it into biogas, or selling it to cardboard factories are expensive and time-consuming,” says the IAS officer. “The farmer has only a three-week window to prepare his fields for wheat cultivation and, for him, lighting it up is quick and only costs a matchstick.”
So, Pannu is busy encouraging in-situ management, which involves getting village cooperative societies and groups of farmers to buy the subsidised equipment that will help incorporate the stubble back into the field.
“A 50 per cent subsidy is being provided to individual farmers and 80 per cent to cooperative societies. In all, almost 25,000 machines will be supplied to farmers and cooperative societies this season,” he says.
There has been some impact of the exercise. From the almost 81,000 paddy straw burning incidents in 2016, the number came down to almost 44,000 in 2017.
“This year we intend to bring the number down to half of that,” promises Pannu.
Mission director, Tandrust Punjab
The 1990 Punjab Civil Services (PCS) officer, who was promoted to the IAS in 1996, also heads the chief minister’s pet project: Tandrust Punjab Mission, an interdepartmental government effort to improve the health of Punjabis.
Pannu’s team recently cracked down on spurious milk sellers.
“We collected 6,000 samples of milk across the state, of which 3,500 were found to be adulterated. It was shocking,” he says. “The per capita availability of milk in Punjab is the highest at almost 1 litre but the use of oxytocin injections to force cattle to produce milk is rampant. We have banned the use of oxytocin.”
Pannu’s team also began checking the sale of spurious crop fertilisers to farmers and is following up on the setting up of effluent treatment plants near industrial areas in the state.
His teams began checking vehicle pollution monitoring centres (which hand out pollution free certificates to vehicles) and found that many were not following standardised norms. Recently, he also mooted the idea of geo-tagging of all the trees in the state to ensure that they are taken care of.
“I am glad that I am able to do varied things as part of the Tandrust Punjab mission. If you see, almost everything around us affects our health,” he says. “There is still so much to be done. We are preparing teams for the festival season to ensure that spurious sweets do not reach your plates”.
Work on Beas, groundwater
Known for his independent functioning, Pannu is generally picked for jobs that involve strict enforcement of rules. In May, as chairman of the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB), he came down heavily on a Gurdaspur-based sugar mill from where almost 10,000 litres of molasses had leaked into the Beas River.
The sugar mill was owned by, among others, Jasdeep Kaur Chadha, a prominent liquor contractor of Punjab. She is related to Paramjit Sarna, a religious adviser to Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh.
The PPCB fined the mill management Rs 5 crore and ordered initiation of criminal proceedings against those responsible. This was the first time that the PPCB has fined any industry such a large amount for causing pollution.
During his first stint as agriculture secretary, Pannu had devised a unique strategy to stem the depletion of groundwater due to the early sowing of paddy. He brought in a one-page law that banned the cultivation of paddy before June 10 across the state. Such a law was unheard of in the country.
“Early sowing led to use of groundwater before it could be recharged, pushing it down further. Later the date was moved ahead to June 15 and this year it was June 20,” he explains.
Whistleblower in textbook scam
As Director General of School Education during the Akali regime in 2013, Pannu blew the lid off the alleged bungling in the purchase of library books and science kits in government schools. Pannu put then education minister Sikander Singh Maluka in the dock over the procurement process for school materials.
Also read: To stop stubble burning, Punjab makes it mandatory to affix machine to combine harvesters
The Congress, then in opposition, raised the pitch for Maluka’s dismissal.
Pannu had found out that the order for publishing textbooks for use in the libraries was given to a Sardulgarh-based pipe factory which then allegedly supplied the books at inflated rates. Pannu paid a price for blowing the whistle against a powerful minister and was transferred to the agriculture department.
In 2013, Pannu was attacked by Sikh pilgrims in flood-hit Uttarakhand where he had volunteered to go as the head of the government team to oversee rescue operations.
“You generally don’t get only bouquets for good work,” says Pannu.
The pilgrims got the impression that he had said something against Sikh gurus and as the rumour spread, a number of Sikh youth cornered and roughed him up.
“It was a learning experience. It taught me to take a blow on my nose and yet keep calm and tolerant,” he says.
Two things are evident: 1) the stubbles burn because they are DRY; a wet or damp stalk won’t catch fire, 2) they are “undesirable” in their native locations because they produce smoke, and smoke produces pollution.
But, but but … there ARE many applications in far away locations where fuel-to-burn is a “desirable” commodity. Like in brick kilns, and many more. Can we “shift” these unwanted stalks to those locations?
Because they are dry, can we install a few giant crushers to convert these stalks to thick wood-powder, fill them in sacks, load them on wagons, and transport them all over the country where “free fuel” is WELCOME? That will be a free and ADDITIONAL SOURCE OF ENERGY, beside the customary fuels like coal, gas, and petrol.
This is my humble suggestion to solve the stubble-burning problem!
Did you read, ‘collection is the biggest problem, and farmers have only a 3 week window to clear the paddy and seed the next crop’?
It will be good to bring, as far as possible, all such good officers into limelight. Negative news 24×7 all around make the whole countrymen hopeless.
Wow,I am in awe, what an officer, my salutes to this young man, God bless him..
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