Punjab: Despite ban, crackdown, burning is on

Despite the ban on straw burning in the state, one could see a large number of burnt fields and fires every 100-200 metres in Kapur village.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Jalandhar | Published: November 4, 2016 6:28:16 am

HEERA, A migrant labourer, was in a hurry to clear paddy stubble from the field of his owner in Kapur village of Jalandhar late on Thursday afternoon. So, he set the entire field on fire. He was also joined by the field owner, Mahinder Singh (name changed) as both wanted to clear the straw as soon as possible to prepare the field to sow wheat. Wheat sowing, which has already begun in the state, will continue till November 15.

Singh owns 10 acres of land on which he sows wheat, paddy and potato every year. “We have harvested paddy a couple of days back and now we are left with less than two weeks to complete wheat sowing for which fields are to be prepared and there is no alternative available with us to remove the stubble. To clear the field for sowing the next crop, we have to burn the straw,” he insisted.

“Government is imposing fine on us but not giving any solution on how to manage the straw. We do not want to spoil the environment as we too live in the same polluted environment, which we create by burning straw, but have no option,” said another farmer.

“Ploughing the stubble costs us around Rs 1,500 per acre which is not viable and the government should support us in clearing the field as the machinery required for stubble management is beyond the reach of more than 70-75 per cent farmers of Punjab,” said another farmer, adding that machinery required to manage straw is costly and without government support, it is not possible for majority farmers to use it.

Despite the ban on straw burning in the state, one could see a large number of burnt fields and fires every 100-200 metres in Kapur village. It was the same at over two dozen villages in Jalandhar, Kapurthala and Hoshiarpur districts that The Indian Express visited on Thursday.According to the Punjab Remote Sensing Centre, which measures stubble burning through satellite images, Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) officials maintained that it has increased this year.

According to agriculture department sources, out of over 20 million tonnes of paddy straw, which Punjab produces annually, nearly half has already been burnt. Around 70-75 per cent (nearly 15 million) of the 20 million straw is burnt to clear land for the next crop.

This year, 30.10 lakh hectares are under rice cultivation against 29.75 lakh hectares last year. Now, the burning fields of Punjab have resulted in a dense smog cover over Delhi, for the past couple of days. Incidentally, the National Green Tribunal has summoned Punjab for creating environment pollution not only in the state but up to Delhi thereby resulting in serious health issues in the national capital.

PPCB has formed several teams along with officials in every district of the state this year to take action against those burning straw and even booked over 500 farmers. They are being fined Rs 2,500, Rs 5,000 and Rs 15,000 for setting on fire two acres, five acres and over five acres, respectively. In Jalandhar alone, around 90 farmers fields have been raided by these teams.

“Our officials have already raided over 500 farmer units,” said PPCB Chairman Manpreet Singh Chatwal.

Dr Jasbir Singh Bains, Director of Punjab Agriculture department, said paddy is sown over a huge area in Punjab for which we have to make a large number of machines available to every farmer in the state. Though big farmers can afford to purchase machines on their own, that cannot be expected of the small and marginal farmers. So, the Centre has to help farmers purchase the machines at nominal rates. In Punjab, not more than 10 per cent paddy stubble can be manged with the available machinery. “We are also changing the mindset of farmers through Kisan Mela so that they can adopt the new technology,” said Bains. “Though awareness is increasing, we still have a long way to go,” he added.

Second generation ethanol production plant in Sangrur

Indian Oil Corporation, in association with the Punjab Bureau of Investment Promotion (PBIP) and the Punjab government, is also going to set up an ethanole plant by using surplus crop residue and other biomass as feedstock. “Sangrur district has already been identified as one of the potential locations where surplus biomass is available. And this plant will reduce carbon emission produced by traditional burning of crop residue by farmers,” informed Chatwal, adding that a 50-acre plot has already been identified to set up this plant, which will help to manage the straw as well as provide additional income to farmers, he added.

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