Chandigarh: The short turnaround time between paddy cultivation and sowing the wheat crop — just about three weeks — is one of the primary reasons why farmers resort to stubble burning, which contributes massively to the air pollution in northern India around Diwali.
But now, the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) in Ludhiana is developing varieties of paddy that will give farmers 15 extra days before they sow wheat, which could help curb the problem, Punjab Pollution Control Board chief Satwinder Singh Marwaha told ThePrint.
Marwaha said the new varieties should be available to farmers from the next season.
Experts say, if an additional fortnight is available to farmers, it could lead to them using alternate methods of preparing their fields. Punjab farmers traditionally follow the paddy-wheat cycle through the year.
A new hope
Dr Navtej Bains, director of research at PAU, said the university is developing varieties of direct-seeded rice (DSR).
“These are being developed to conserve water use in paddy plantation. But these will have the additional advantage of reducing crop residue burning,” he said.
Bains said though the government was encouraging farmers to sow the short-ripening varieties, many still preferred to sow the older PUSA varieties that take almost 130 days to be ready. “In some areas in Sangrur and Moga, farmers tried the short-duration varieties and went back to the older varieties,” he said.
“In 2018, almost 73 per cent of the total area under paddy cultivation was short-ripening varieties. These included varieties which ripened between 93 days (from transplantation) to 110 days. Since these varieties were harvested earlier, they gave farmers more time to prepare the fields,” Bains said.
“In fact, the PR 126 variety, which ripens in 93 days has the additional benefit of better pest management, and also in many cases, the possibility of sowing peas and potatoes. Many farmers in the Doaba area have successfully done it,” he added.
A big problem
PPCB chief Marwaha insists that while stubble burning is indeed a contributing factor behind pollution, it is not the only one.
“The PPCB had got a study done by the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) last year, which said that only 10 per cent of Delhi’s smog was due to crop residue burning. The rest was a result of localised pollution,” he said.
Until Tuesday, the total number of stubble burning cases reported in Punjab this season touched 47,000, despite an awareness campaign headed by state Agriculture Secretary Kahan Singh Pannu.
“Out of the total 47,000 cases reported, sub-divisional teams have visited a majority of sites. The highest number of cases have been reported from Sangrur, Bathinda and Ferozepur,” Pannu told ThePrint, adding that environmental compensation was imposed in almost 14,000 cases.
Pannu said around 1,400 FIRs have been registered against farmers this season, while in another 100 cases, the state has started prosecution proceedings under the Air Act, 1981.
He said the agriculture department has also ensured that a majority of farmers used straw management systems on their harvesters.
Pointing to this crackdown, Marwaha said: “We are doing our best. Truant farmers have been asked to pay environmental compensation and the government has collected over Rs 3 crore. Another Rs 1 crore has been collected as fine from those farmers who had not installed the straw management systems (SMS) on their harvesters.”
Marwaha said the Supreme Court’s intervention in the matter will have a substantial impact on the situation.
“The government has to now pay compensation to the farmers who are not burning crop residue. We are in the process of registering such farmers,” he said.
He added that lack of awareness is not an issue anymore. “Thanks to an intensive campaign across the state, farmers are aware of the problem. Now the real solution lies in dealing with the reasons why farmers are forced to burn crop residue, even when they know that it is an environmental hazard and can led to huge fines and FIRs,” he said.