Paying farmers to manage paddy stubble as an incentive for not burning it is not advisable and could be a “perverse incentive”, the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) said in a report submitted to the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
The effort by Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh must be to ensure that farmers have easy and affordable access to stubble management machines, which provide an alternative to crop residue burning, said the report by the Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA).
Each year at the start of winter, paddy refuse is set on fire by farmers, primarily in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh so as prepare their fields quickly before sowing the wheat crop. This, along with contributing factors such as low temperatures and wind direction, leads to high pollution levels in Delhi and nearby areas.
EPCA’s submission moves away from a directive by the apex court in November last year to the three States, to pay Rs 100 per quintal of paddy crop to farmers as an incentive for not burning the crop stubble.
EPCA member Sunita Narain told The Indian Express, “There should be deterrence but not a perverse incentive. We don’t believe the Rs 100 top up over the MSP (minimum support price) is a good idea — that you would give this to them if they don’t burn the stubble. That works against the polluter pays principle.”
“There are other ways to pay farmers, which is why we have said the machines should be made available for free to those who can’t afford them. There is also the option of buying the stubble (for conversion into CNG or bio-gas),” said Narain, who is also the director general of the Centre for Science and Environment.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has been pressing the Central government to give the Rs 100 per quintal incentive to farmers. Punjab chief secretary Vini Mahajan also said earlier this month that in the absence of this support, the State was left to fight the stubble burning issue on its own.
An estimated 9.8 million tonnes of crop residue was burned in the State last year, in over 50,000 farm fires.
This year Punjab, so far the largest stubble burning State, has provided nearly 51,000 stubble management machines — close to 17,500 to individual farmers at a subsidy of 50%, and over 33,000 to Custom Hiring Centres at a subsidy of 80%.
While stubble burning is not the only cause of air pollution during winters in the northern Gangetic plains, including Delhi, there is “no doubt” that transport of pollutants from these fires is the tipping point for making winter’s unhealthy air quality into a public health emergency, the EPCA report states.
However, Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare has said in an action plan submitted to the Supreme Court that the incentive for not burning the stubble should be provided by State governments from their own budgets, if it is necessary.
In three states
After the apex court’s directive in November, Punjab paid incentives worth Rs 28.51 crore to over 31,000 farmers in 2019. However, this year the government, as per the EPCA report, has sought funds from the Centre and said it would not be able to pay this on their own.
While Uttar Pradesh has no plans for providing the incentive, Haryana has allocated Rs 301 crore for it this year. Last year nearly 4,000 farmers in the State were provided this incentive totalling Rs 1.63 crore.
EPCA chairman Bhure Lal has also asked for clarity from Punjab and Haryana on the price being charged to small and marginal farmers for using stubble management machines, being provided to them through Custom Hiring Centres and village panchayats.
Lal asked the Punjab chief secretary in a letter on Wednesday that operational cost being charged to farmers for use of these machines should be laid down, so that there is no possible misuse. To the Haryana chief secretary, Lal asked for a clear directive on the rental rate or the free use of machines to avoid misuse.
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