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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Explained: Why Punjab rent waiver on farm machines will not help much

Will the government’s step of not charging small and marginal farmers rental for stubble machinery really help control farm fires? We explain

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba |
Updated: October 10, 2020 10:58:05 pm
stubble burning, punjab stubble burning, punjab farmers, stubble burning machines, indian expressAccording to the 2015 agriculture census, there are 10.93 lakh farmers in Punjab. (Express Photo: Gurmeet Singh)

Punjab has recorded five times more stubble fires between September 21 and October 7 as compared to the same period last year. To control the fires, the state government, in a letter to the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) — a Supreme Court-mandated pollution control authority — said Custom Hiring Centres (CHCs) in the state will not charge any rental from small and marginal farmers for providing them machinery to manage stubble. But is this enough to stop the fires? The Indian Express explains:

What steps are being taken by Punjab government to control field fires this year?

Between September 21 and October 7, the state has recorded 1,692 stubble burning cases against 307 during the same period last year. The Punjab government has not only asked all CHCs to not charge rentals for providing stubble management machinery to all small (having land upto 5 acres) and marginal (having land upto 2.5 acres) farmers, who cannot afford this in-situ costly machinery even on rent, it has also fixed nominal hiring charges for stubble management machines, which can be hired by other farmers from these centres for an hour. The rates (without tractor) are as follows:

* Happy seeder and RMB Plough 2 bottom: Rs 200 per hour
* RMB plough 3 bottom: Rs 300
* Shrub master: Rs 100
* Mulcher: Rs 200
* Zero till drill: Rs 100
* Rotavator: Rs 100
* Super seeder: Rs 400-500

What are the rates for hiring these machines from CHCs alongwith a tractor and operator?

With a tractor, the rates of these nearly half a dozen kinds of stubble management machines would be:

* Happy seeder: Rs 1300 per hour
* RMB Plough 2 bottom: Rs 1,200
* RMB plough 3 bottom: Rs 1,500
* Shrub master: Rs 400
* Mulcher: Rs 1,500
* Zero till drill: Rs 600
* Rotavator: Rs 1,000
* Extra chargers for combine with super SMS: Rs 300-500
* Super seeder: Rs 1,600-2,000

How many CHCs in Punjab have stubble management machines?

Engineer Manmohan Kalia, joint director (acting), Punjab Agriculture department, farm machinery wing and nodal officer of farm machinery Punjab, said, “Already 8,000 custom hiring centres, which can be a group of farmers, a group of 10-12 persons, cooperative societies etc. have been formed in Punjab and 5,000 more will be in place in this ongoing paddy harvesting season. With this we will be able to cover all 13,000 villages of the state under CHCs.” All the centres do not have all the machines available.

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How much small and marginal farmers does Punjab have and how much land do they own?

According to the 2015 agriculture census, there are 10.93 lakh farmers in Punjab. Experts and the state government however said that off late, there are total 18.50 lakh farmers (due to division and subdivision of holdings across generations). Of this, 68 per cent are small farmers, owning one to less than five acres of land, which comes to around 40-42 per cent of the total around 42 lakh hectares agriculture land in Punjab, including around 3 lakh under horticulture. There are over 5 per cent big farmers (highest in proportion in the country) who own more than 10 hectares (25 acres) land and remaining are semi-medium and medium farmers having land 6-8 acres and 9-24 acres, respectively.

“If the government will pay Rs 2,500-3,000 per acre to small and marginal farmers, they will manage it on their own instead of depending on anyone,” said Jagmohan Singh, general secretary, Bharti Kisan Union (BKU) Dakaunda.

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Will the government’s step of not charging small and marginal farmers rental for stubble machinery really help control farm fires?

Maybe not, say majority experts, farmers and groups running CHCs.

“Government is saying that these machines would be available to small and marginal farmers free of cost but there is no meaning of these machines unless these farmers have their own tractors because all these machines are tractor-mounted,” said Sukhjit Singh Diwala of Diwala village in Ludhiana district, who along with 10 more farmers are running a CHC called ‘Sanjhi Kheti’ which owns all stubble management machines including two happy seeders, Super SMS, Chopper, rotavator etc.

“If we provide our tractor to them, we have to charge at least Rs 1,100-1,200 per acre for usage of the tractor (while stubble management machinery will be free) because a tractor consumes around Rs 700 diesel in 60-75 minutes, depending upon how much heavy machinery it is pulling,” said Sukhjit, adding that for tractor usage, small and marginal farmers have to spend money and it is to be seen whether or not they are ready for this expenditure or not.

“There are some small farmers who also own a second-hand tractor in Punjab but this free machinery will not be useful for them too because majority of such farmers own a small tractor with 35 to 40 Horse Power (HP) and machines like Happy Seeder, Super Seeder etc. cannot be run without a tractor having 55 Horse Power (HP) and above,” said farmer Jagdeep Singh, who also owns a stubble management machine centre in Sangrur’s Kanoi village, adding that only upper medium and big farmers own big tractors in Punjab.

Majority semi-medium and medium farmers either don’t own tractors or own small ones and may avoid spending on stubble management methods and go for the burning method, said experts, adding that Punjab owns a good number (74,000) of stubble management machines now but lacks a proper road map.

“All big, medium farmers can afford to manage stubble and government must tighten the noose against them while supporting small and semi-medium ones,” said a Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) expert.

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