Despite the state government’s awareness campaign and crackdown against burning of wheat stubble to check pollution, defiant farmers in Punjab vowed to continue the practice till the government came up with a solution.
The burning of wheat stubble, which started from Aklia village in Mansa district on Sunday, continued Tuesday not only in Mansa, but also in the districts of Bathinda, Sangrur, Barnala, Fazilka, Moga, Ferozeopur.
Thick smoke engulfed the Barnala-Mansa road around 10.30 am on Tuesday as farmers were busy burning their fields collectively while raising slogans of “Punjab Sarkar Murdabaad”.
Though the local patwari and agriculture officer of the area were present, villagers of Ralla village in Mansa were not ready to listen. “Officials can calculate the area being set on fire, but they cannot stop us till the time they don’t give us any solution. This smoke will go up to Delhi once again,” said Inderjeet Singh, general secretary of Bharti Kisan Union (Dakaunda)’s Mansa unit.
Activists of farmer unions like Bharti Kisan Union (Ugrahan), BKU (Sidhupur), BKU(Dakauda) and Punjab Kisan Union were also seen exhorting farmers for burning wheat stubble. Gurnam Singh and Bhola Singh of Punjab Kisan Union were heard saying, “We are with you. We will support you in every manner. Go ahead and burn the stubble.”
Lala Singh of the same village, who had set 7 acres of his harvested wheat fields on fire to make it ready for the paddy season, said, “The little straws never get dissolved in mud even after repeated ploughing and use of rotavator. When we sow paddy, these straws hamper the growth of our plant and hence our paddy yield gets affected. So we have no choice but to burn the fields. Government should pay us Rs 5,000 per acre so that we can work hard in repeated ploughing so as to go green.”
In Samao village, villagers gathered at one place and decided to burn the wheat stubble. Balwinder Singh, who owns 5 acres, said, “Our forefathers never used to burn the stubble. At that time, they never used to sow paddy after wheat. They sowed bajra, guar, sunflower. So straw management was easy with these crops. But now these crops have no market value and hence we are focusing on wheat-paddy cycle. Hence stubble burning is inevitable unless we are given some compensation to go green.”
Union leaders also said only stubble-burning was being targeted while ignoring vehicular pollution, industrial and water pollution.
Though farmers did stubble burning en masse, most of them refused to be identified. “We don’t want to give our names, otherwise we will be targeted. Let it be from the whole village,” said a group of farmers of Ralla village.
Dharampal Gupta, Deputy Commissioner of Mansa, however, said, “Only a few villages where farmer unions were active have gone against our directives. The rest have agreed to follow the norms. After all, it is for their benefit only.”
Meanwhile, in Moga, the administration has slapped a total of Rs 7,500 in fine on farmers who flouted norms. In Fazilka, six farmers were fined a total of Rs 17,500, of which Rs 5,000 had been collected so far.
The Indian Express team saw burnt wheat fields in Barnala and Sangrur villages as well.
In Bathinda, farmers staged a dharna before DC’s office, asking him to stop fining farmers for burning stubble and seeking sought 12 hours of electricity supply.
Dr Jasbir Singh, state’s director of agriculture, said, “I agree with farmers that straws get collected at one corner of paddy fields and affect yield. However if they get it removed, the problem can be solved and environment can also be saved. We had sent a proposal to Centre, seeking a crop compensation of Rs 358 crore through which we can give compensation in the range of Rs 1,500-2,000 per acre to farmers to encourage them to hire labour and do ploughing, instead of burning fields. We are waiting for their response.”