Stubble burning: Punjab lines up farmers to present before NGT in ‘showcase’ village

In his hands he held an A-4 sheet, containing names of 21 farmers from this village that the state government says it has “adopted”, to demonstrate different technologies for paddy straw management.

Written by Sowmiya Ashok | Kalar Majri (punjab) | Updated: October 14, 2017 3:12 pm
Punjab farmers, Stubble burning, Punjab stubble burning, NGT punjab farmers, NGT stubble burning, Pollution, India news, Indian Express Crop stubble being burnt near Kalar Majri in Punjab on Thursday. (Express Photo: Harmeet Sodhi)

At 3 pm on Thursday, exactly 12 hours before a bus full of farmers from here travels to Delhi to testify at the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on measures to curb stubble-burning, Jasveer Dass, an assistant technology manager with the Punjab government’s Agriculture Department, rode pillion through the village of Kalar Majri.

In his hands he held an A-4 sheet, containing names of 21 farmers from this village that the state government says it has “adopted”, to demonstrate different technologies for paddy straw management.

The choice of this particular village, especially since it has only 60 farming families, has been questioned by farmers of the Bharatiya Kisan Union-Rajewal faction, who have been protesting over the last two weeks outside the NGT. Some of the names on the list are repetitions from an affidavit submitted by the Punjab government to the NGT, others newly inserted.

On Thursday, Dass was looking to fill in the blanks: father’s name, mobile number, total land, acres where crop residue had been collected, and the farmer’s Aadhaar number.

More importantly, he was looking for signatures — he had only seven until that point — an assurance in writing that the farmer would get onto the bus and appear before the NGT. The vehicle, provided by the Irrigation Department, will travel to Delhi under “police protection”. According to Bhadson SHO, this would be done so that other farmer factions cannot stop it.

Dass was confident of success. “I am preparing data on all the farmers. They are all ready to go,” he told The Indian Express.

Birdavinder Singh was 13th on his list. The 40-year-old is a techie-turned-farmer, who moved back to his home village nearly eight years ago after three years in the IT industry in Gurgaon. Birdavinder owns a ‘Happy Seeder’, a machine developed by Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) that allows a farmer plant wheat on a field containing leftover stubble.

He bought it for Rs 1.5 lakh. “I have not been able to claim the subsidy (of 40 per cent on the machine) from the government,” he says. “Not because they are unwilling but I have just not had the time to prepare the paperwork to get reimbursed.”

Birdavinder’s version of life and farming is at extreme odds with that of disgruntled farmers who have repeatedly taken up their grievances regarding stubble-burning before the NGT. “This is an experiment year for us,” he says. “I have tried to sit down with all the farmers and come up with a consensus on how we should manage crop residue. The idea is to give up 70-75 per cent of the residue to bailers to use in bio-mass plants and manage the remaining 25 per cent by incorporating the straw into the ground or use the Happy Seeder.”

Birdavinder rattles off a list of the other machines provided by the government to the village to get it off stubble-burning, including two mulchers, and a facility to fit in a straw management system to the combine harvester. The Indian Express saw one mulcher at work in the fields, and a Happy Seeder sitting idle.

Gurcharan Singh, 50, who also plans to get onto that bus, says he has seen a Happy Seeder but has no idea how to use it.

Down the road, in Bhadson, in a large combine harvest manufacturer’s plush office, farmers question Birdavinder’s claims. “The equipment he says Kalar Majri received is all on rent and is to be shared by five villages,” says a farmer, who did not wish to be named. “Think of this like a by-election campaign: the state government is only doing this to show to the NGT that it has done something. There is a lot of show but nothing happens on the ground. This morning, crop residue was burnt in that same village.”

Neither Dass nor Birdavinder can say why Kalar Majri, among the smallest villages in Patiala district, was adopted by the state as a showcase of stubble management. “I really don’t know but I must say that I had personally started doing some research nearly three years ago. I contacted PAU and asked what I should do to improve farming practices,” Birdavinder claims. “It is our responsibility to care for the environment and for the future of our children.

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