Chandigarh: As reports of stubble burning trickle in from some parts of Punjab and Haryana, the Punjab government has launched a major crackdown on farmers violating the ban. Haryana, on the other hand, is focusing on an intensive awareness campaign across the state but is stopping short of taking punitive action against farmers in the wake of assembly elections next month.
Between 25 September and 30 September, reports of over 150 fires have emerged from the two states.
The stubble burning usually lasts till mid-October and has been blamed as one of the leading causes of the thick layer of smog that blankets Delhi during winter.
On Sunday, the Punjab agriculture department warned farmers cultivating on panchayat land that they will be barred from acquiring panchayat land on lease in future if they indulge in stubble burning.
Agriculture Secretary Kahan Singh Pannu said 1.37 lakh acres of panchayati land is under agriculture and farmers caught burning paddy straw on such land will be disqualified from the next auction.
In July, Punjab had made a request to farmers to voluntarily give up polluting to mark celebrations of the 550 years of Guru Nanak Dev.
A slew of measures in Punjab
The Punjab government is using other punitive and measures to deal with the stubble burning problem after the Punjab and Haryana High Court stayed the recovery of fines from defaulting farmers early last month.
Last week, as the first reports of paddy straw burning came in from Amritsar and Tarn Taran, the agriculture department ordered impounding of all combine harvester machines functioning without the Super Straw Management System (SMS). “No harvester combine shall be allowed to harvest paddy in Punjab without SMS that cuts the straw into small pieces, thereby helping the farmers to manage it without resorting to burning,” Pannu said.
He added that the state government was providing 50 per cent subsidy for individual farmers on the total cost of Rs 1.10 lakh that it costs to fit the SMS onto the machines. Co-operatives societies are being given a 80 per cent subsidy. “There are nearly 12,000 combine harvesters in Punjab, of which 5,000 machines have already been fitted with the SMS,” Pannu said.
Paddy is grown in about 65 lakh acres in Punjab. After the harvest of the paddy crop, farmers are left with 20 million tonnes of paddy straw.
“Since there is a very small window of sowing the next Rabi crop (mainly wheat) after paddy harvest, farmers tend to burn the paddy straw in the fields to prepare them for the next crop,” Pannu said. This year, he said, about 10.21 million tonnes of the paddy straw was being put to some use and the rest is being burnt.
“Of the 10.21 million tonnes of paddy straw being used almost 4.30 million tonnes of paddy straw is being utilised ex situ. Some of this is being used in the seven biomass-based power plants while some is used in paper/cardboard mills,” Pannu added. “Some straw from basmati paddy is used as animal fodder. The rest is managed in situ by farmers, which is the only leading solution to the problem.”
Centre pitches in
The Narendra Modi government too is promoting the sale of agriculture equipment for in situ management of paddy straw. The Centre sanctioned Rs 669 crore for 2018-19 and 2019-20 to Punjab to offer subsidy on such equipment. Individual farmers and village cooperative societies are being encouraged to buy super SMS, happy seeders, shrub cutters, paddy straw chopper, mulchers, zero till drills, rotary slashers and rotavators.
More than 28,600 such machines have been made available to over 12,000 farmers and over 3,000 cooperative societies in 2018-19.
“For the 2019-20 season, the central government has sanctioned Rs 273.8 crore, of which Rs 18 crore is earmarked for awareness activities. The rest is for subsidising the purchase of machinery,” Pannu said. “Till Thursday, more than 4,000 new machines had been ordered by individual farmers and village cooperative societies. The target for next year is to provide another 24,000 such machines.”
Additional funds of Rs 150 crore have been sought from the Centre to subsidise another 14,000 equipment that will cover almost the entire area under paddy cultivation.
“Every possible department of the government that can contribute is being approached. Government employees who have farm lands have been warned of disciplinary action if they indulge in paddy burning,” Pannu said. “Canal patwaris of the irrigation department and junior engineers of the power department have been directed to bring fire incidents to the notice of the deputy commissioners. Members of Primary Co-operative Societies and commission agents (arhtias) registered with agriculture produce market committees have been directed not to burn crop residue.”
Haryana to conduct awareness campaign
In Haryana, paddy is cultivated on over almost 25 lakh acres of land. In 2018, over 6,100 stubble burning cases were reported in this state and 167 FIRs lodged against farmers.
The highest number of cases were reported from the districts of Sirsa and Fatehabad. The department collected over Rs 50 lakh as fine from the defaulting farmers.
This year, over the past one week, almost 30 cases of stubble burning have been detected across the state.
From last year’s data, the department has shortlisted 273 villagers across the state where the incidents of stubble burning were more than 10 in one season. These villages have now been selected for special training and awareness sessions.
The agriculture department is also promoting the reporting of these incidents through to a GPS enabled reporting mechanism built through a mobile app.
In Haryana, however, there had been no directions issued for punitive action. Sources said it has to do with the forthcoming assembly polls in the state.
“With elections in less than a month from now, the focus is not so much on punitive action but to continue with encouraging farmers to purchase the machinery to be used for harvesting,” said a senior officer of the agriculture department. “Also the state just finished with an intensive awareness campaign on Monday.”