The Supreme Court Wednesday asked three states – Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh – to pay within seven days Rs 100 per quintal of paddy as incentive to farmers who have not burnt stubble on their fields. While the order has been a welcome one, it may also be a case of too little and too late for Punjab. ANJU AGNIHOTRI CHABA explains why
Will the decision help in curbing stubble burning and thereby the pollution or has it come a little too late?
The farm experts, farmer organisations and the farmers have welcomed the decision. Most had been demanding cash incentive for a long time to manage paddy stubble instead of burning it. The decision, however, may not benefit Punjab much this year because it has come at the fag end of the the harvesting season when nearly 90 pert cent of the non-Basmati crop has been harvested. A majority of the harvested paddy fields have already been set on fire as farmers prepare the farms for the winter crop of wheat which is cultivated in 35 lakh hectares in Punjab. Due to small time window between paddy harvesting and wheat sowing, farmers are already in a hurry to get their fields free of stubble. Experts said that had these directions come at the beginning of the paddy harvesting, it would have drastically changed the scenario of stubble burning in Punjab, which witnessed 42,846 farm fires till November 7.
What is the stubble burning period in Punjab?
It lasts for almost two months starting from last week of September. This year it started from September 23 and will continue till third week of November. The majority of fires take place between October 20 to November second week. It was already 6 days in November when the the apex court’s directions came. Now Punjab government has to provide the compensation to those small and marginal farmers who have not burnt the stubble till date. Experts says number of such farmers would be very less.
The officials in the Punjab government say that it is also likely that farmers may not wait for the compensation as they don’t want to delay wheat sowing. It is likely that they may clear the stubble either by burning or adopting other alternative methods. Also, physical verification of the farmers who have still not set their farms on fire is a time consuming exercise and officials said that the small windo of a week (now only five days) to dole out compensation may not be enough.
What is the wheat sowing period in Punjab?
Ideally, the wheat sowing in Punjab is carried out between November 1 to November 15 when 70-80 per cent of the winter crop is sown. The farmers, however, prefer to start sowing from October 25. The sowing season often extends till November 25, but experts say that late sowing affects the yield of the crop. Of the targeted 35 lakh hectares in Punjab, farmers had already sown wheat on 4.20 lakh hectares till November 4.
Will Punjab government be able to pay the compensation in such a short period?
No, it is a difficult task to achieve, said a senior government officer, adding that Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh had written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently demanding Rs 100 per quintal paddy compensation for Punjab farmers to manage the stubble. The official said state governments, especially that of Punjab, cannot pay such compensation and Centre should make long term plans for it. “Punjab is already waiving loans of upto Rs 2 lakh of 10.40 lakh small and marginal farmers leading to a huge burden on the exchequer,” the official said.
How much area is under non-Basmati variety (paddy) in Punjab?
Out of total 29.20 lakh hectares under paddy this year, 22.91 lakh hectares was under non-Basmati crop. Out of this area, nearly 90 per cent paddy has already been harvested. Normally 24-25 lakh hectares come under non Basmati in Punjab, which produces more than 15 million tonnes of paddy stubble. Nearly 60 per cent of this year is cultivated by small and marginal farmers who have land holdings of less than 5 acres and who cannot not afford the stubble management machines. A majority of them burn the stubble.
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