WITH THE beginning of the paddy harvesting season in Punjab, the farmers have also started burning crop stubble in the fields. The Punjab government is due to appear before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to explain why it has been unable to control paddy stubble burning.
According to the experts, an all-round aggressive approach is needed on behalf of the government, scientists and farmers to curb burning of crop stubbles. These may include adoption of ‘straw management technologies’, putting in place stringent law and spreading awareness of its bad effects among farmers.
Punjab grows paddy in some 28-29 lakh hectares (lh), but this kharif season (transplanting in June and harvesting in October) over 30 lakh hectares are under paddy cultivation. The crop produces an estimated 20 million tonnes of straw, of which about 75 to 80 per cent were being burnt till two years ago. Last year, that number dropped marginally.
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According to the experts, burning of straw burns out 1 lakh tonnes of nitrogen, 0.5 lakh tonnes of phosphorus and 2.5 lakh tonnes of potash in the soil over the 29-30 lakh hectares in which paddy is grown in the state annually.
What Farmers Say?
“Like wheat straw, paddy straw is not good for consumption by animals due to high silica content in it. And with paddy mostly harvested in October, there is little time — around 15 to 20 days — for preparing field and planting wheat crop by mid-November. So rather than dealing with foot-high leftover stalks after the paddy harvest, farmers simply set their fields on fire. We do not have enough machinery to manage the straw, and farmers opt for an easy way out at the cost of air and soil pollution,” said Satnam Singh, a farmer of Kangniwal village in Jalandhar.
“Some big farmers are purchasing straw management machines like ‘chopper and shredder’, but everyone cannot afford it as it costs Rs 2.35 lakh,” said another farmer Narinder Singh.
A major pollutant
Punjab Pollution Control Board member secretary Babu Ram says burning straw leads to increase in particulate matter (PM) in the air. He said the burning causes release of acids like sulfates, nitrates, metals in the air and could cause severe health problems. PPCB official said the PM level is several times high against the permissible limits in Punjab during paddy harvesting season.
Cheap machines key
Dr D R Kataria, who recently retired as Joint Director farm Machinery Punjab Agriculture Department, feel lack of machinery makes it impossible to control the burning of straw. “If farmers are to be prevented from burning, a large number of straw-chopping machines has to be made available to the farmers at a low price. Punjab does not have even 1,000 such machines,” said Dr Kataria.
At present, Punjab has around 400 to 500 such machines that are owned by farmers and cooperative societies. “A plan of Rs 6,600 crore was made for the purchase of machines like ‘chopper and shredder;, ‘happy seeder’, ‘zero tillage’ etc, but the government could not get the money from the Centre,” said an engineer at agriculture department.
The Existing Law
There is no specific law in Punjab to ban straw stubble burning, but every Deputy Commissioner (DC) in Punjab has the power to ban this under section 144 of the CrPC. It is a common practice in Punjab that DCs issue order under 144 of the CrPC, just before paddy harvesting and wheat harvesting season in Punjab, asking farmers to abstain from stubble burning. The practise, however, continues right under their nose. The DC also has the power under 188 of the IPC to punish violators but that rarely happens. Under the law, a violator may be punished for up to six months jail and imposed a fine of Rs 1,000.
Need for New Law
Like Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Act of 2009, which was enacted to save depleting groundwater and under which no farmer can sow paddy before June 10 or June 15, a similar law is needed to ban paddy straw burning, feel experts. Whenever a farmer sowed paddy before the given dates, it was uprooted by agriculture officials. Now the farmers have learnt not to sow before the given dates, said an officer of Punjab government.
A WhatsApp group
A group of ‘Young Innovative Farmers’ across Punjab, which could stop several farmers from burning stubble in the field last year, has been also active this year. “I was shocked to know about its effect on environment when I received SMSes and photos through whatsApp. I did not burn straw on my 10 acres of land. I also advised around 15 -20 farmers of my village to not to burn it, and they acted on my advice,” said farmer Manjinder Singh of Nangal Jhaur who is a member of the group.
He said the effort “saved around 150 acres land” in the village from crop burning last year.
The WhatsApp group was formed by Pathankot Agriculture Development Officer Dr Amrik Singh.