With paddy harvesting set to begin from end of September, the Punjab government has invited the applications from individual farmers, farmers groups, co-operatives for the sale of 23,500 subsidised machines for managing paddy stubble.
But an overwhelming majority of the farmers said that these machines are beneficial only if the government provides compensation of Rs 100 per quintal paddy over and above the MSP to the farmers particularly small and marginal farmers.
They said that while it will not cost even 2 per cent of the total MSP to be released for the procurement of paddy, but will have a far-reaching impact on protecting the environment.
Last year, the Supreme Court had directed governments of three states, including Punjab, to provide compensation of Rs 100 per quintal paddy to the small and marginal farmers.
Punjab government has been providing subsidised farm machinery to the farmers since 2018 under the grant being provided by the central government.
Already 51,000 stubble management machines, which include 16,000 Happy Seeders, 6,000 Super SMS and remaining around 31,000 chopper/mulcher, cutter, MP Plough and rotabotors etc. worth Rs 480 crore, have been provided in the last two years. Rs 300 crore would be spent on such machinery this year with which the number of such machines will increase to nearly 75,000 in the state.
But experts said that these machines are not leading to significant gains to the state at the moment.
“For instance, if we take the example of just one such machine then one would come to know that how under-utilised they are. Last year, Punjab had around 16,000 Happy Seeders which could have managed stubble on around 13 -14 lakh hectares (32 to 35 lakh acres) by sowing wheat in standing paddy stubble, but these machines had covered only 5.30 lakh hectares (13 lakh acres),” said a source from Punjab Agriculture Department, adding that if along with these machines farmers will get compensation then the results would be far better.
Happy Seeder, a tractor-mounted machine that allows planting of wheat without the need to burn leftover straw from the previous paddy crop, can sow wheat on 7-8 acres daily and these can be run for 24-25 days after paddy harvesting.
General Secretary of Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) Dakaunda, Jagmohan Singh, said: “Meeting of Justice (retd) Mehtanb Singh Committee for management of paddy straw in the state was held in January this year and several important points were discussed in that meeting including providing compensation to the farmers to manage the stubble but after that, no information on compensation has been announced till date.”
He said that such machines are purchased by the rich farmers while Punjab has 65 to 70 per cent small and marginal farmers who cannot even afford to pay the rent of these machines, which are provided on rent by the rich farmers/and societies, for managing the stubble.
“If the government pays compensation along with the MSP to the marginal and small farmers it will not cost the government even 2 per cent of the total amount released for paddy procurement but it would be a huge positive impact on the environment,” he added.
Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, General Secretary, BKU (Ugrahan), said: “If the government pays a compensation Rs 100 per quintal paddy to the farmers then they can hire the paddy stubble management machines or can hire manual labour to manage the stubble.”
He argued that government can do this on a pilot basis to see the trends.
Director, Punjab Agriculture Department, Dr Sutantra Airi said that the government is providing stubble management machinery on a subsidy basis and when sufficient machinery would be available to farmers they can take these machines on rent rather than burning the stubble in the fields.
Even last year when the state had 51,000 such machines, the area under burning increased by four per cent compared to 2018 when there were only 28,000 such machines.
Also last year, 12 out of 22 districts of Punjab had burnt stubble on 50 per cent to 77 per cent paddy area before wheat sowing.
“But if compensation is provided then such machinery will be utilised fully by the farmers,” said an expert, adding that incorporation of stubble will not only enhance the fertility of the soil but will prove a boon for the environment.
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