ECONOMISTS AND agriculture scientists have said that viable economic incentives be given to farmers to wean them away from paddy stubble burning that has resulted in heavy smog.
Speaking to The Indian express, Dr Sucha Singh Gill, economist and former director general of Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID), said unless the average farmer is sure of making profit from removing stubble, he will continue to burn it. “There are ample options available for the state government to popularise and these include using paddy stubble for compost fertilisers or to generate electricity through thermal plants,” said Gill, adding that farmers being threatened with punitive action for stubble burning will not be successful in a state like Punjab. “No government can afford to antagonise the farmers and while there may be a few instances where arrests are made as a deterrent, this will not succeed unless a financial angle is included,” he argued.
Dr Jagtar Singh Dhiman, senior scientist at Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) and former additional director, research, says one major reason why farmers burn stubble is the short time span between paddy harvesting and wheat sowing. However, he claimed that there are options, both feasible and financially viable, to dispose of the stubble. “Stubble should be procured by the government and factories should be opened to manufacture cardboards and plywood and ethanol from it. It can even be used in mushroom production as packaging material and fodder for camels. But unfortunately, none of the options has reached farmers at large scale. A farmer on his own cannot start such large-scale operations and it has to be backed by the government,” he said.
Dr S S Kukal, additional director, research (natural resources and plant health management), PAU, however, says it is wrong to say that there are no viable economic options. “If a farmer purchases a ‘Happy Seeder’ machine worth Rs 60,000 or even hires it, the cost of wheat sowing is, in fact, reduced and wheat is directly sowed without burning paddy stubble. It also preserves soil moisture. However, it is true that currently there is a shortage as only 620 Happy Seeders are available in Punjab,” he said.
Dr Kukal says that PAU has also given other options like biogas and mushroom production using stubble but the onus lies with the state government to popularise it. “Around 330 balers in the state have been used for 26,500 hectares of area to compress stubble and sell bales to thermal plants for Rs 25-30 per bale but, again, it needs to reach more farmers,” he said.
Senior government officials say the problem is unlikely to be resolved soon as the political leadership is reluctant to take any harsh action against errant farmers due to the impending Assembly polls. “At the fag end of its tenure, this government is unlikely to address this issue in the short span of time available to it and the matter is expected to be taken up with all seriousness only in 2017 after the new government takes over,” said an agriculture department official.d