With heavy smog caused by farmers burning paddy stubble bringing the problem into focus once again, economist and agriculture scientists have called for viable economic incentives to be offered to the farmers in order to wean them away from the stubble burning cycle.
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 that unless the average farmer feels that he will get some profit for his labours in removing the stubble rather than burning it, he will not give up the burning process. “There are ample options available for the state government to popularise and these include using the paddy stubble for compost fertilisers or for generating electricity through thermal plants,” he said.
Dr Gill opined that the punitive action being threatened against the farmers by booking them under various sections of the law for burning paddy 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 added to it,” he said.
Dr Jagtar Singh Dhiman, senior scientist Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) and former additional director research says that one major reason why farmers burn stubble is the short time span that exists between paddy harvest and wheat sowing period. However, he says there are still options which are not only feasible to adopt but financially viable as well to dispose the stubble. “Stubble should be procured by the government and factories should be opened to produce cardboards and plywood and ethanol from it. It can even be used in mushroom production, as packaging material and fodder for camels in deserts but unfortunately none of the options have been made to reach farmers at large scale. A farmer on his own cannot start such large scale operations and it has to be a government backed operation,” he said
However, Dr SS Kukal, additional director research (natural resources and plant health management), PAU says that it is wrong to say that there are no options with the farmers which are economically viable. “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 shortage of Happy Seeder machines and 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 it the onus is on the state government to popularize it. “Around 330 balers in 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 that the problem is unlikely to be resolved very soon as the political leadership is reluctant to take any harsh action against errant farmers due to the upcoming 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 a agriculture department officer.