The Centre’s new ordinance to check air pollution in Delhi and adjoining areas has made the small and marginal farmers of Punjab — who are mostly blamed for stubble burning — a worried lot. They say they can neither bear the extra expenditure to manage stubble nor pay the fine proposed under this ordinance even after selling their small land holdings.
The President has given his assent to The Commission for Air Quality management in NCR and adjoining areas, 2020. It focuses on improvement of air quality in NCR and adjoining areas (including Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh). The commission will focus on better coordination, research, identification and resolution of problems surrounding the air quality index and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
According to the ordinance, a 20-member commission will be set up with immediate effect, which will have the power to impose a fine of upto Rs 1 crore and imprisonment which may extend to five years or both for non-compliance or contraventions of any provision of this ordinance.
Small and marginal farmers admit that the issue of pollution exists and they are not against a commission like this as they do not want to burn stubble. However, they believe that the solution is not a heavy penalty, but to acknowledge the problems they are facing in ground reality.
Around 68 per cent small and marginal farmers (nearly 33 per cent as per the Punjab government’s agricultural census of 2015-16) have land ranging from less than an acre upto five acres in Punjab, while in India, the number of small and marginal farmers is upto 85 per cent. Currently in Punjab, there is hardly any buyer to purchase even an acre at Rs 20 lakh, said experts.
“We saw the news where it was said that the commission can impose a fine upto Rs 1 crore. From where will farmers like me having 1.5 acres of land pay such a fine, even if it is half of the maximum amount?” asked a small farmer from Sangrur district who burnt his stubble this year too, adding a small farmer cannot even afford to pay a few thousands in fine.
‘Govt should ensure minimum income of small farmers, labourers’
Professor Gian Singh, retired economics professor at Punjabi University Patiala, said that this ordinance is welcome but one more ordinance is needed before this to ensure minimum income for small and marginal farmers, farm labourers and rural artisans so they can meet their basic needs and also have the capacity to manage crop stubble.
He further said that when the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) is already imposing ‘environmental compensation’ (fine for paddy stubble burning), the commission under the new ordinance cannot impose fine the second time for the same offence.
In Punjab, stubble burning takes place every year in 17-18 lakh hectares. Small and marginal farmers own around 40-42 per cent of a total of around 42 lakh hectares agriculture land in Punjab.
“The pollution problem is very genuine but it cannot be tackled in such an authoritarian manner by the Centre without taking farmers organisations and state governments’ into confidence,” said Jagmohan Singh, general secretary, Bharti Kisan Union (BKU) Dakaunda.
A senior officer in the PPCB said they had tried their best, and now they will support the commission.
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